Sunday, June 21, 2009

Leading Pacific academic Prof Ron Crocombe dies

One of the best known figures in Pacific Studies, Emeritus Professor Ron Crocombe, died in Auckland yesterday of a heart attack while on a bus to Mangere for a flight to his home in Rarotonga.

Prof Crocombe, 79, an historian who earned his doctorate at the Australian National University, was considered the world's foremost authority on the cultures of the Pacific. Last week he had been inducted as a fellow of the Atenisi University in Tonga.

The New Zealand born academic lived and worked in the Pacific as an administrator in the Cook Islands, director of ANU's New Guinea Research Unit in the 1960s and as Professor of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific.

Even in retirement in the Cook Islands, he continued to consult and publish widely on Pacific affairs. “He is a phenomenon,” said one commentator, “there is no one quite like him. He is not a disciplined nor a discipline-bound scholar. Indeed, he has a healthy disregard for disciplinary boundaries and niceties.”

Prof Crocombe lived in PNG from 1962 to 1969 and returned many times. He gained an international reputation for his work on Pacific land tenure systems and his scholarly reputation will probably relate to this work.

He will also be remembered as the indefatigable encourager and publisher of works by Pacific islanders. During his directorship of the Institute of Pacific Studies, hundreds of Pacific Island students, teachers, administrators and others published big and small works of varying quality on a range of Pacific topics.

Quality was not necessarily Crocombe's primary concern. He was more concerned to boost the confidence of the island peoples' in their ability to write and reflect on their experiences.

His lifetime partner and collaborator was Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe, until recently Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.

Professor Crocombe is also survived by four children, 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Prof Crocombe will be buried in Rarotonga later this week. A memorial service will also be held at the Pacific Islands Christian Church in Auckland next Sunday.

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