Obituary: Ian M. Robertson

Ian Macbeth Robertson, civil servant, born 1 February 1918, Private Secretary to Minister of State Scottish Office 1951-52, to Secretary of State for Scotland 1952-55, Assistant Secretary Department of Health for Scotland 1955, LVO 1956, Assistant Under-Secretary of State Scottish Office 1963-64, Under-Secretary Scottish Development Department 1964-65, Scottish Development Department 1966-78, CB 1976, Secretary of Commissions for Scotland 1978-83, member Williams Committee on National Museums and Galleries in Scotland 1979-81, Chairman of Governors Edinburgh College of Art 1981-88, HRSA 1987, married 1947 Anne Stewart Marshall, died Edinburgh 31 July 1992.

ONLY two months ago (1 June) Ian Robertson wrote for the Independent an extremely sympathetic obituary of Sir Robin Philipson, one of Scotland's leading painters. It was one of very few occasions when he wrote about art at all, writes Colin Thompson.

This was not for want of understanding and appreciation of what he saw. He and his wife Anne assembled over the years a collection of paintings, small but chosen with affection, mostly by artists they knew personally in Scotland, including several by Robin Philipson.

But Ian was a consummate professional in his own field of administration, and for this reason he was always diffident about expressing his own views in any area where he felt himself no more than an interested amateur. He preferred instead to leave it to people who might speak with more authority, listening to what he heard with a highly developed critical faculty - and sense of the absurd - and an extremely retentive memory.

When he joined the Scottish Education Department as Under-Secretary, responsibility for the arts had just been transferred to it from the Home Department. This was in the teeth of strong protests from the Chairman of the National Galleries, but Ian soon convinced him that the move was for the better. It became well-known in time that any letter that concerned the museums or the arts would stop at the Under-Secretary's desk.

His involvement with the arts continued after his retirement with the Williams Committee on Scotland's National Museums and Galleries and, from 1981 to 1988, chairmanship of the Board of Governors of Edinburgh College of Art.

In 1987 he was made an Honorary Royal Scottish Academician in recognition of his continuing support for art and artists. He was a man for whom the arts were a necessary and integral component of civilised life, not - as so many members of other professions are inclined to see them - a frivolous and unnecessarily expensive extra.