IT was a Wednesday afternoon in Glasgow, and the city stopped to stare.

As the cortege progressed slowly through the west end, Glasgow’s citizens, their faces set against the dreichness, squinted to contemplate the dread hearse, no doubt wondering who was the recumbent occupant.

Or perhaps they knew that it was William McIlvanney, for some bowed their head in silent tribute to the man who wrote about Scottish lives better than anyone in these past few decades.

McIlvanney would have enjoyed the fact that he was making his fellow Scots think once again about the big subjects – death, life, love – that he so often delineated and dissected with words as precisely chosen as an epitaph.

His death at the age of 79 from cancer had come as a shock, like the punch of a big man, bringing to an end a life illuminated by writing, his way of sharing his great humanity.

Love there was aplenty in the neo-Gothic magnificence of Glasgow University’s Chapel where a memorial service that can only be described as beautiful took place yesterday afternoon.

The range of mourners reflected McIlvanney’s many and enduring friendships with people across the spectrum of Scotland.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, actor David Hayman, the playwright Peter McDougall and director Morag Fullarton, ex-footballer Tony Higgins, broadcasters and writers Alistair Moffat and Billy Kay, the actor and ‘Steamie’ writer Tony Roper, former Mainstream publisher Bill Campbell, Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh of Deacon Blue fame, the historian Sir Tom Devine, Glasgow Council leader Frank McAveety and Ian Rankin, the creator of Rebus, were among the 300-plus people in the Chapel of the University where he studied in the 1950s.

The consequence of love is grief and that showed in the eyes red-rimmed with tears, especially among his family. They requested that the service, which they called a celebration of his life, be not taped or recorded, though a short summary seems apposite.

It began with one of McIlvanney’s favourite pieces of music, Lament by Aly Bain – he, too, was among the mourners.

Though the service was non-religious, University chaplain the Rev Stuart MacQuarrie began the event by revealing that a much larger public commemoration of McIlvanney will be held in the Bute Hall at the University on April 2.

McIlvanney’s lifelong friend Frank Donnelly then spoke of their days together as pupils at Kilmarnock Academy and Glasgow University and as teachers in Ayrshire, Donnelly recalling that McIIvanney was such an inspirational teacher that in one English class, 29 out of 30 pupils gained A passes.

Also recalling their earliest days was McIlvanney’s brother Hugh, Britain’s greatest-ever sportswriter, who said how proud he had been of his brother and made reference to his renowned good looks – “he was a braw boy, even as an elderly man.”

He also recalled that the brothers shared a detestation of Thatcherism and acknowledged his brother’s part in campaigning for devolution and a Yes vote in the referendum last year.

Other members of McIlvanney’s extended family gave heartfelt tributes and readings during the service, with a choice of his favourite music being played – two Leonard Cohen songs, Jubilee by Mary Chapin Carter,and later at the Dalnottar Crematorium, Robert Burns’ greatest love song Ae Fond Kiss.

There was laughter and applause during the service, too and that was also apt, for McIlvanney loved company and a joke – how he would loved to have attended his wake at the Oran Mor yesterday evening.

Before his son Liam gave a most moving personal tribute, his daughter Siobhan recalled how much McIlvanney loved Glasgow – indeed, he had once described Glasgow as “a small and great city… a place so kind it would batter cruelty into the ground”,

Then she read an Emily Dickinson poem that starts:

Because I could not stop for death,
He kindly stopped for me.
The carriage held but just ourselves
and Immortality.

At the University Chapel, the congregation stood to sing Auld Lang Syne as McIlvanney’s coffin was borne outside.

The last music at the crematorium was Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien by Edith Piaf, an appropriate choice for a fluent French speaker who loved life and lived it to the full.

William McIlvanney is gone from this Earth but he leaves behind resplendent memories and immortal words and an idea of Scotland he expressed best in a few sentences in Docherty: “We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

Amen to that, Willie.