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‘Papa Ron’ dedicated life to the Cook Islands, region

By Helen Greig

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 19, 2009) – Professor Ron Crocombe – the renowned Cook Islands scholar, Pacific expert and educationist – died suddenly in Auckland yesterday at the age of 79.

Many friends of the cheerful academic were hit hard by the news of his passing, most expressing shock and deep sadness.

Ronald Gordon Crocombe is survived by his wife Marjorie Crocombe, four children Tata, Ngaire, Kevin and Sam, and many grandchildren.

Crocombe was reportedly on his way to the airport to return home to Rarotonga on yesterday afternoon’s flight when he died.

His daughter Ngaire told CINews yesterday that her brother Tata is in Auckland and arranging the return of Papa Ron’s body to Rarotonga within the next two days. She said the family could not yet comment about the cause of his death.

Crocombe had recently visited China and was returning from a conference in Tonga.

Prime minister Jim Marurai was saddened to learn of the passing of Papa Ron.

"He sends his deepest sympathies to Marjorie and all the family from Malaysia," said a statement from his office.

"The PM called Papa Ron one of our national treasures – a rich resource of knowledge, experience, and wisdom – and a real guiding light for all Cook Islanders, not just those intent on pursing academic study.

"He had a lot to offer and was generous in his views and advice. And as a result of his profound understanding of political issues and dynamics in and around the Pacific, he was widely regarded and respected throughout – everyone knew Papa Ron and as such, he was an important ambassador for our country. At times, Papa Ron had words of advice for the prime minister and those views were highly appreciated."

Marurai said Papa Ron will be missed but fondly remembered as a great achiever and contributor to the Cook Islands and its people.

Deputy prime minister Sir Terepai also issued this statement yesterday: "A Pacific icon is lost and we mourn a gentleman who loved the Cook Islands with passion, spoke our language fluently, mentored so many with his inspiring intelligence. We were so fortunate to have him by our side. Aere ra e te tama rangatira o te Kuki Airani."

Sir Terepai is expected to issue a further statement on his return to Rarotonga today.

Born in New Zealand, Professor Crocombe has lived and worked in the Pacific islands for half a century. He served as director of Australia National University’s New Guinea

Research Unit in the 1960s and most notably as Professor of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific for 20 years beginning in the 1970s.

As Emeritus Professor (since 1989), Crocombe was one of the longest-serving members of USP, the founding professor of Pacific Studies and one of the earliest senior lecturers there.

Crocombe has not only been called the academic father figure of Pacific Studies but a phenomenon for his many contributions after retiring.

He has written many authoritiative books. One of his most recent is 50 years of study into 4000 years of Asia’s influence on the Pacific titled ‘Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West’.

One of the high-profile contributions he made to the Cook Islands government is the report of the Commission of Political Review of 1998 ‘Reforming the Political System of the Cook Islands’ which he co-wrote with Iaveta Short and John Herrmann.

He received his PhD from ANU in 1961 after completing his masters courses in economic development and cultural psychology.

Crocombe has worked for some of the most revered organisations and institutions in the world such as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Development Programme, the East-West Centre in Honululu, and untold universities.

He is well respected for his extensive consultancy work for over 40 years on land tenure, local government, social and cultural policy, higher education and security issues undertaken for most Pacific Islands governments. His research in the Pacific from 1957 to the present day focused on land policy, rural sociology, ethnohistory, regional organisation, social, cultural and educational policy, politics and international relations.

Crocombe was not only a lifelong researcher but devoted much of his time to helping around 2000 Pacific Islanders publish their own research.

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