16th January 2009 at 00:00

Harles Edward Stewart, who has died in Inverness at the age of 76, was the former director of education in Highland Region in the days of the "super-councils" when he was one of only 12 in Scotland.

He was appointed to run Highland's education service in 1981, and was a surprise outsider to succeed the austere Free Presbyterian Ronald Macdonald (although Stewart had done the same job in Argyll for 10 years). The contrast could not have been greater - the reserved, quietly-spoken, somewhat aloof Highlander was followed by a man with undoubtedly the most raucous laugh in the directorate, a gregarious, easy-going, brash Glaswegian (and lifelong Rangers supporter into the bargain: he referred to Ibrox as "the shrine").

Stewart had his work cut out when he took on the Highland job. Union relations were barely civil, and policies on issues such as Gaelic education branded unimaginative. "Relationships were poor when I came here," Stewart recalled in 1984. "The joint consultative committee (with teachers) was a rammy - I mean, they were hanging from meathooks."

Stewart was an ideal committee man, writing papers which were "masterpieces of clarity and elegance", as a former colleague put it. But he combined his strengths on forging policies and priorities with being a "people person", which allowed him to develop the political sensitivities so essential for officials when dealing with a disparate band of independent councillors.

These skills were put to good use when Stewart was faced with the perennial problem of school closures. But they were also in evidence when it came to what will probably be his lasting legacy - investing in schools in the neglected west Highland area, while keeping east coast and north Highland councillors on side. Thanks to his time in charge, six-year schools were built at Ardnamurchan and Kinlochbervie, and he upgraded the secondaries in Mallaig, Kinlochleven and Fort Augustus.

Charles Edward Stewart had Islay blood on his mother's side, but he was born in Glasgow. Before his teaching career took off, he was actually one of Britain's atomic scientists, working for three years at Aldermaston. He taught science in Campbeltown, Invergordon and Inverness before entering administration in 1966 as assistant director of education in Dumfries-shire. He then had spells as depute director in Wigtownshire and, from 1971, as director in Argyll of which he remained in charge after it was absorbed into Strathclyde Region.

Stewart continued as director in Highland until he retired in 1994, when his health was beginning to falter. His wife Sally died five years ago, and he is survived by a son and daughter and four grandchildren.

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