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Emeritus Professor Ronald Crocombe, one of the Pacific's most esteemed and highly regarded academic fathers, has died in Auckland, aged 79.

Dr Crocombe, known affectionately as Papa Ron, suffered a heart attack and died last Friday while on his way to the airport in Auckland.

He was returning to his home in Rarotonga - after arriving in New Zealand from Tonga - where he was inducted as a fellow member of Tonga's Atenisi University, with five other international academics.

Dr Crocombe, who was born in Auckland and who grew up in the King Country, was well-known for his work and passion for the Pacific Islands and the advancement of Pacific people.

He was highly regarded in Pacific circles and among academics for his work in establishing Pacific Studies as a study subject in various universities around the Pacific, including those in New Zealand.

The founding director of the University of the South Pacific's Institute of Pacific Studies, Dr Crocombe was the author of several books, including Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West.

In the 1960s he served as director of Australia National University's New Guinea Research Unit and in 1989 was appointed emeritus professor.

Around 200 people - including various academics, politicians and members of the Pacific community - paid tribute to Papa Ron at a memorial service at the Pacific Islands Church in Newton, in Auckland, on Sunday.

Minister of Pacific Island Affairs Georgina Te Heuheu said Dr Crocombe's wise and thoughtful contributions to the development of the Pacific over many years would be missed.

She paid tribute to Dr Crocombe, saying: "Not only will he be missed by his family, but by people and communities across the Pacific."

Dr Crocombe's final services were held in his native homeland in Rarotonga, where he was laid to rest yesterday.

He is survived by his wife and long-time collaborator Marjorie Tuainekore, his children Tata, Ngaire, Kevin, Sam, and 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

* Achievements

Founding father of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific.

Taught at the university for 20 years.

Served as director of Australia National University's New Guinea Research Unit.

Helped encourage and also contributed to the establishment of Pacific Studies as a subject in other Pacific universities, including The University of Auckland.

Inducted as one of six fellows of the Atenisi University in Tonga.