Obituary for the former Professor of Conveyancing at the University of Glasgow

James Alistair Macfarlane Inglis (known as Alistair) was Professor of Conveyancing at Glasgow University from 1978 to 1993.

He had a hard act to follow: his predecessor was the late Professor J M Halliday, one of the towering legal figures of the 20th century and a major influence on the introduction to Scotland of the map-based registration of title system.

Oddly enough, Alistair was the first to benefit personally from the new system. Renfrewshire was the first county to go live on the new register and his home in Uplawmoor gained the very first title number – REN1.

Throughout his own tenure as professor, Alistair served diligently and authoritatively on the joint committee charged with operating and troubleshooting the fledgling system.

Wisely, he made no attempt to create himself the new Halliday. His public personality was quieter, more reserved. Instead he set about the practicalities of running his department with characteristic firmness.

His appointment coincided with the introduction of the Diploma in Legal Practice for law graduates seeking to become practising lawyers. He asked me to join his team of tutors on the conveyancing module. I was pleased and honoured to serve. That opportunity Alistair gave me has had a significant effect in shaping my own career.

Alistair left us as tutors to devise the course and its content. He intervened rarely. When he did, the discussion was free and frank, but somehow the decision always came out to do things his preferred way. We learned that quiet assertiveness was his stock in trade. “Stubborn” was a word we found ourselves using.

The chair was a part-time one. Alistair’s principal professional commitment was as a senior partner in the well known Glasgow firm McClure Naismith Brodie & Co. He had a full portfolio of client business and was held in high esteem by clients and colleagues alike.

As professor, he was consulted frequently about property law problems. I recall visiting his office once to discuss a tricky boundary issue. We pored over plans and documents and he finally pronounced: “I think the answer is to...”. Silence descended. I looked at him. He was sound asleep! I coughed pointedly. He opened his eyes, showed no surprise, and completed his sentence without further hesitation. His advice was both correct and practical. I paid his fee without deduction for slumber.

That Alistair should get tired in his working day was no surprise. His commitments and output were prodigious, also including contributions to legal textbooks and reference sources.

Yet on top of this he found time to take on additional appointments and voluntary roles, including chair of the rent assessment panel; various hospital and health boards; a general trustee of the Church of Scotland, a patron of the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons in Glasgow; a director of the Merchants House of Glasgow, and many more. He was a former Dean of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow, a position I currently hold with pride myself, though scarcely with the authority and standing which Alistair brought to it.

In 1984, to his pride and delight Alistair was awarded a CBE for services to the legal profession.

It is in relation to his professional and academic career that I knew Alistair Inglis best. But despite the demands of his stellar career, Alistair was first and foremost a family man. He raised a family of five and I am proud to relate that two of them became lawyers and joined my firm as partners.

Born in Kilmarnock, son of a lawyer and a doctor, he attended Kilmarnock Academy and Fettes College, and in due course St Andrews University where he gained an MA, followed by a law degree at Glasgow.

In 1958 he married Elizabeth, the love of his life. They became kenspeckle and greatly loved residents of Uplawmoor for the rest of their lives. Alistair’s funeral thanksgiving service packed out the local Caldwell Parish Church. A family-authored eulogy was delivered with great sensitivity and not a little humour.

Alistair and Elizabeth had five children, Alexander, Elspeth, Morag, Marion and Ronald. They were, and remain, a close knit and strong family unit. Alistair’s presiding at the evening dinner table was legendary, conducting general knowledge interrogations to which the family responded enthusiastically and competitively. Laughter was an ever-present.

A conscientious Christian with a firm faith, Alistair was session clerk of Caldwell Parish Church for more than 50 years. This did not preclude his membership of the Uplawmoor “bad boys” club, which met weekly for a dram. The family had a succession of dachshund pets, all of whom Alistair adored. The most recent joined him just a year before he died.

The loss of Elizabeth in 2004 was a terrible blow for Alistair and the family. But he refused to bow to self-pity, and applied himself diligently to learning new skills and pursuits. Even in his last months he was making plans for various things he intended to do in 2020, a year which, alas, he was not to see.

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