Robert Rennie: An appreciation

Professor Robert Rennie

Robert was a first-class person. He was at the University of Glasgow at the same time as I was. He graduated with an ordinary degree in law, but went on to do a PhD, (on floating charges) part-time during his apprenticeship, and under the supervision of Jack Halliday. Robert admired Jack and, I think, probably unconsciously, modelled himself on him. Once we were in practice, our paths did not cross, until he provided the Law Society’s Conveyancing Committee with a first-class paper on minerals, a subject on which he was an expert. The convenor, and our friend, Colin Miller, had the good sense to ask Robert to join the committee, and the committee benefited from his wisdom and knowledge thereafter.

It was a great privilege for me to act as one of his referees for the chair of conveyancing at Glasgow. He brought enormous distinction to that post. His opinions, like Jack’s, were the model of clarity and learning but with a practical slant, where appropriate. He was obviously a good teacher and admired by his students—always immaculate in his three-piece suit. He carried on the tradition started by Jack of inviting his most distinguished students to dinner, to which he brought a variety of members of the profession—judges, sheriffs, advocates, solicitors and other academics. The students clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet these people. Our collaboration and friendship grew and he easily got into the way of academic life, combining it, very successfully, firstly as a partner in Ballantyne & Copland in Motherwell and latterly with Harper McLeod, in Glasgow. 

We wrote a number of books together and there was never any problem with him, and I hope he did not have any with me! I think we were in the good books of the publishers, (no pun intended) as we never missed a deadline. We did, of course, take our work seriously, whether on the Conveyancing Committee, Complaints Committee C, working on the books, giving lectures, or meeting with civil servants about reforming the law, but Robert was always able to inject a bit of humour into these activities with that characteristic twinkle in his eye and a comment made, very often, with a straight face. At times, the “banter” was, as they say, “magic.” He did, of course, publish other books on his own, including a magisterial work on professional negligence. Those who contributed to the essays in his honour undertook the task with pleasure and we had an enjoyable day when some of these essays were presented at a conference. He was delighted with that.

His opinions on conveyancing and professional practice were highly regarded and persuasive and he was frequently called upon to give evidence, assuming, of course that a previous view expressed by him, was to be contested. One never knows, but I suspect that if one side had an opinion from Robert, often court proceedings would be avoided. On a couple of occasions, Robert was asked for an opinion by one side and I was asked by the other. I agreed on these occasions with him and that was the end of the matter. 

He continued to have a significant input to the law, even after he retired from the chair of conveyancing. 

We now have lost a very distinguished holder of that chair, a serious and weighty contributor to the literature on conveyancing, property law and other matters—a worthy successor to Jack Halliday, and like Jack, modest about his achievements. Obviously, he will be a sad loss to his family of whom he thought highly and colleagues; his memory lives on not only in us who knew him well and benefited from his ability and friendship, but in his former students who have an opportunity to demonstrate the considerable influence he must have had on them. It is a sad thing to say “Goodbye,” but my life is much the richer from knowing Robert. 

Douglas J. Cusine