Obituary: Bill Gordon, Emeritus Professor of Law.

Prof Bill Gordon
Prof Bill Gordon
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Born: 3 March, 1933 in Inverurie. Died: 1 September, 2012 in Glasgow, aged 79.

Professor Bill Gordon made a major contribution to legal scholarship and the history of Scots law over more than half a century.

At 25, he was a lecturer and he would later hold the Douglas chair of civil law at Glasgow University for 30 years, write and edit a range of significant legal publications and play a key role in the Stair Society.

Yet when he was given an honorary doctorate he told no-one, save his oldest friends, about the award. His was a characteristic modesty more than matched by a formidable intellect and enormous capacity for hard work, which continued until the very end of his life.

His academic ability was first evident as a schoolboy at Inverurie Academy. The son of bank manager William Gordon and his wife Helen, a former teacher, he won a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, where he excelled and became language dux before winning a bursary to Aberdeen University.

He graduated with an MA in 1953, gaining a law degree two years later and was admitted as a solicitor in 1956.

However, before he could embark fully on his career he had to complete his national service and spent two years in the Royal Navy, stationed at Devonport, Plymouth.

On his return, he became a teaching assistant in jurisprudence at Aberdeen University, moving to Glasgow University, where he gained his PhD, as lecturer in civil law in 1960. Five years later, he was appointed senior lecturer in private law and, in 1969, became Douglas Professor of civil law.

An avid reader, he expected others to be equally well read, and as a result he could set some very testing exam questions. His students often had to learn the hard way that it was simply not enough to attend lectures: serious reading, to the extent of taking in the footnotes in textbooks, was expected.

His own major publications included Roman Law, Scots Law and Legal History: Selected Essays, along with Scottish Land Law, the latter in its third edition and on which he was still working. In addition he edited works with a number of other scholars.

He was also the literary director of the Stair Society, a body set up to encourage the study, and advance the knowledge of, the history of Scots law through publishing original documents and editing and reprinting other rare and important works. The society was very dear to his heart and, with his talent for studying and transcribing old documents, he was well-suited to its work which saw him edit and publish several volumes.

He held the office of literary director for 13 years from 1985 and last year was elected Stair Society vice-president. By then, he had also become a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and received his honorary doctor of laws from Aberdeen University.

Having retired from the Douglas chair in 1999, he became a professorial research fellow in Glasgow University’s School of Law. During, and beyond, his academic career he remained a distinguished linguist a lectured abroad on tours to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Poland.

Away from academia, he was an accomplished golfer – once enjoying a handicap of three. He played in various inter-university matches and was a longstanding member of Milngavie’s Hilton Park Golf Club. In his youth he had been a hockey player and more recently he pitched his sporting skills against his grandchildren at table tennis.

Along with his family, the church was also an important part of his life. He was a member of Jordanhill Parish Church, where he could regularly be seen reading his bible in Latin, and which he served as an elder for 45 years, as finance convenor and session clerk.

A man of quiet distinction and wisdom, he leaves a significant legacy to the legal establishment both at home and abroad.

He is survived by his wife, Isabella, whom he married in 1957, their children Malcolm, Melitta, Mark and Elise and 11 
grandchildren.

ALISON SHAW