Obituary: Regius professor and Scottish law commissioner

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Joe Thomson,  May 6 1948 to May 12 2018

The son of a Campbeltown fish shop owner was a leading legal mind and inspired generations of Scottish law students.

Joe McGeachy Thomson, 70, who died last week, was a brilliant legal scholar. At Edinburgh, he won the Lord President Cooper memorial prize for outstanding student and as a Scottish law commissioner helped mould the law of the land.

He became an academic first at Birmingham University before a move to Kings College, London, and a decade later a return to Scotland as head of law at Strathclyde followed in 1991 by his appointment as regius professor at Glasgow University.

Lawyers say his textbooks are a model of clarity without compromising thoroughness and generations of students still devour his published works: Family Law (1987), Delictual Liability (1994), Contract Law in Scotland (2000) and Scots Private Law (2006).

Many former students have tweeted their sadness at the news of his death and recall how he could command a full turnout even for lectures at 9am on a Monday.

‘He filled the room with energy and character,’ one wrote. ‘His annual party was legendary.

‘There can’t be many professors who had non-law students sneaking into their contracts lectures.’

Another former student wrote: ‘Who could ever forget the lesson from a tale that began: ‘Imagine I wished to enter into a contract to purchase some black silk sheets…’

As the ’80s and ’90s saw his career soar, he indulged some of his great passions.

Joe had a sensitive and adoring palate for good food and an even keener sense of which fine wines should accompany a meal.

He loved the arts, particularly opera, and had a good eye for paintings from different artists straddling a multitude of styles.

He would often combine gastronomy with artistic pursuits in some of the great cities of the world.

But Joe never forgot his Campbeltown roots. He started school at Dalintober and moved to Campbeltown Grammar School before being awarded a bursary to study at Keil School, Dumbarton.

His Kintyre childhood taught him to work hard, celebrate success but never allow status to make you better than your peers. He loved his home town and army of local friends.

So much so that about five years ago he retired to Kintyre, and a Low Askomil house, with the love of his life Annie Cowell.

The ultimate party house, it became Joe and Annie’s sanctuary but also their melting pot for entertaining.

Everyone and anyone were on their guest list from the great and the good to neighbours and friends.

Everyone was treated with the same generosity and courtesy.

As a couple they were utterly devoted to one another and complimented each other perfectly.

Joe had an almost unchecked exuberance for everything he did. Annie brought order to ensure he did not run away with himself.

‘Another drink Joseph,’ she would say. ‘That sounds good Mrs Thomson.’

Joe will also be recalled by those who appeared before him when he served as an honorary sheriff in Campbeltown.

Joe had also maintained his links with academia and till last year served as the editor of the Juridical Review – Scotland’s oldest law journal.

He had a deep religious faith.

For him it gave a spiritual uplift and his relationship with the church was one he valued but one for the most part kept quite private.

A few months ago he felt unwell whilst at church. A cancer diagnosis followed. It crushed those close to him and yet he took the news without any hint of melodrama.

Joe laughed and joked with the doctors and nursing staff.

When told of his treatment he asked: ‘Can I still drink gin and tonic?’

Joe Thomson. NO_c21joethomson01_Joe Courier1