By Pippa Brown: Pacific Media Centre
Tributes flowed as families, friends and colleagues gathered in Auckland to say goodbye to the man they called “Papa Ron”, before his final journey home to the Cook Islands today.
About 150 people gathered at a memorial service yesterday at the Pacific Islands Presbyterian Church in Newton to remember professor emeritus Dr Ron Crocombe, known as the father figure of Pacific studies.
Family and friends were joined by ex-students, politicians, learned colleagues and academics who spoke of this great - but humble - man, a leading academic in the Pacific and founding professor of the University of the Pacific’s Institute of Pacific Studies.
Professor Ron Crocombe died suddenly in Auckland on Friday while on his way home to Rarotonga, where he will be buried today.
Born in Auckland and brought up in the King Country, he lived his life as a passionate advocate for the Pacific Islands and the people.
A great traveller, during his time in the Pacific he mentored many Pacific Islanders, a lot of them becoming outstanding leaders in governments and organisations throughout the region.
His family spoke of his love of people, how their home would fill with young people who would return years later as judges, prime ministers and leading academics.
Tata Crocombe, the eldest of Dr Crocombe’s four children, honoured his father at the service and spoke about his strong sense of duty and inclusiveness.
“It was a hand up not a hand out,” he said.
He said his father had tremendous respect for everyone and went beyond the barriers people created and had a natural ability to connect with all people.
He treated everyone with the same respect and his trademark was to stick out his hand, to anybody and everybody and introduce himself, said Tata Crocombe.
He was an educator, social scientist and bridge builder and believed in the University of the South Pacific whole heartedly.
Tata Crocombe said the memorial service was a “celebration of a good man who left a good legacy”.
Passionate about the Pacific he would argue with anybody in order to get them to understand the Pacific better.
Dr Crocombe also had a strong connection with New Zealand Māori. He spoke many of the Pacific languages including Cook Islands Māori, New Zealand Māori, French and Tok Pisin.
He wanted the Pacific Island people to find their own confidence and ways to go forward. “All he wanted was for people to find their own conscience, wisdom, truth and have the willingness to listen and be open to others opinion,” said Tata Crocombe.
He was a true educator and always helping someone out. He wanted to bring the best out in people. He believed people should be “the best you can be”, and would try to get everyone to achieve that goal, said Tata Crocombe.
Dr Crocombe was the author of many books and an energetic writer. One of his recent volumes Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West, points to the decline in influence of New Zealand, Australia and European countries within the Pacific, and the rapid acceleration of Asian migration and power into the Pacific Islands.
Tata Crocombe spoke about his father’s ability to see through the political and social structure and understand how the country was going to change.
“He predicted 20 to 30 years ago the rise of Asia, not only in the Pacific but in the world,” said Tata Crocombe.
Younger son, Kevin Crocombe spoke of a lost chance as Dr Crocombe had really wanted to write a definitive book on the Cook Islands that he had started drafting.
“It is a tragedy that it was not finished,” said Kevin. “Reading Dad’s books are like having a chat with him. They are such an easy read.”
He was a cheerful academic said Kevin Crocombe.
“He was always wisecracking, joking and had a different point of view on everything.”
Dr Robert Woonton, former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands from 2002 to 2004, spoke of his deep respect for Dr Crocombe and the standards he set in education and for the people of the Pacific Islands.
He said Dr Crocombe was not just a Kiwi but a Cook Islander over and over again. He covered the Pacific from Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.
Dr Mary Salisbury, lecturer in linguistics at Massey University said she spoke on behalf of Kiwi academics and the mark he had left on academia. He had such breadth of knowledge, not just in one area but the whole of the Pacific.
“No one could fill his shoes,” she said.
Dr Salisbury told of his generosity and open heart, the time he always had to give, the time he gave because he loved people so much. She thought it a great legacy if his dream, his final word and book on the Cook Islands could be written by a Cook Islander.
Dr David Robie, associate professor in communication studies at AUT University and director of the Pacific Media Centre, had been with Dr Crocombe in Tonga last week when, together, they and four other international academics were inducted as international fellows of ‘Atenisi University in a special ceremony.
Dr Robie paid homage to Dr Crocombe as an exceptional man who was an inspiration all over the Pacific.
“He was an extraordinary mentor to Pacific Islanders and wherever he went he took books,” said Dr Robie.
He quoted from a tribute from Professor Rajesh Chandra, vice-chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, emphasising that Dr Crocombe would be remembered as a humble man, disdainful of hypocrisy and of self-proclaimed experts, who devoted his professional life to explaining the Pacific to those from elsewhere.
He will be remembered with enormous respect by all those with whom he worked and those he taught.
“A scholar and a gentleman, Ron Crocombe is sadly missed by his numerous friends and admirers at the University of the South Pacific,” said Dr Robie.
Just four months short of turning 80, Dr Crocombe is survived by his wife, Marjorie, four children Tata, Ngaire, Kevin and Sam, and many grandchildren.
Top photograph: Ron and Marjorie Crocombe (The Fiji Times); other photos - the pallbearers, Tata Crocombe and PMC's David Robie (Photos: Pippa Brown).
Pippa Brown is an AUT Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on internship with the Pacific Media Centre.
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