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Farquhar Macintosh, who has died at the age of 84, was the last secondary head to be a national public figure. He followed in the tradition of men like Sir James Robertson of Aberdeen Grammar and Sir James Munn, progenitor of the Standard grade curriculum.

While Macintosh was rector of The Royal High in Edinburgh from 1972-89, he found time to chair the Scottish Examination Board, sit on Edinburgh University Court and on the Highlands and Islands Development Consultative Council and be heavily involved with the BBC as a member of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland and vice-chair of the UK School Broadcasting Council.

As a head, he was in a league of his own, one former Royal High colleague recalls. The common joke was that "Farquhar's not in school again today", but he kept a grip on what was going on despite his outside commitments.

Under Macintosh's chairmanship, the then Scottish Examination Board had to wrestle with the long drawn-out creation of Standard grade, with arguments about the fees charged to local authorities and with the threat to national exams during the 1984-86 teachers' dispute.

Throughout, he remained unruffled and press conferences at the exam board's Dalkeith offices were followed by the appearance of a bottle of Talisker and much good-humoured banter. Macintosh was always a convivial companion.

The Talisker was a tribute to Skye, where he was born and educated. After Portree High, he studied at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities. Teacher training at Jordanhill College (where he was eventually to chair the governors) led to posts in history at Greenfield Junior Secondary in Hamilton, Glasgow Academy and Inverness Royal Academy, where he was principal teacher.

Headship came early, first at Portree, followed by Oban High and The Royal High.

Lifelong pride in his Gaelic heritage found expression in the belief that only education would preserve and promote the language. Macintosh believed in Gaelic-medium teaching, and a large part of his retirement after 1989 was devoted to encouraging the spread of Gaelic schools and of higher education including training of Gaelic teachers. This was reflected in his long involvement with the Sabhal Mor Ostaig Gaelic college on Skye.

His interest in a Highland university based on federated colleges of further education predated the development of what is now the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute, on whose board he served.

Macintosh, who was made a CBE, gave his energies to many causes and institutions, including the Royal Blind School and St Margaret's School in Edinburgh.

He is survived by his wife Margaret, a former secondary head, two girls and two boys; one, Kenneth, is Labour MSP for Eastwood and one of his party's education spokespeople.

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