Professor Ron Crocombe. Pacific studies expert. Died aged 79.

Professor Emeritus Ronald Gordon Crocombe, who had an MA from Victoria University and a PhD from the Australian National University, has died suddenly in Auckland.

Born in Auckland, and raised in the King Country, he became a true son of the Pacific, a life-long researcher into its societies and organisation.

Dubbed the "cheerful academic" and the "father of Pacific studies", Papa Ron (as he was respectfully known) lived in Rarotonga for much of his life.


Famous for his kindness, insatiable hunger for travel (he was rarely in a country for more than two weeks) and absolute respect for humanity, he was also defined by that unmistakable Kiwi trait - a robust and resilient sense of fairness.

For 50 years he was renowned as a champion of the Pacific, an expert, writer of books, researcher with inbuilt encyclopaedic knowledge of Oceania, and scholar in Pacific matters - from Melanesia, Micronesia and through to Polynesia.

He was a fluent speaker of Cook Island Maori, French, New Zealand Maori and Tok Pisin (PNG's pidgin) - as well as English. A self-appointed coach for confidence among Pacific peoples, Ron made it his life's work to foster leadership and the capability for the ethnicities of the area to find their own solutions. He also mentored writers and academics throughout the Pacific.

Ron was director of the New Guinea Research Unit (1962-69) in Papua New Guinea, and then in the University of the South Pacific (Fiji) he founded the Institute of Pacific Studies.

During his lengthy tenure, he fostered Pacific scholarship by Pacific peoples. Aware of growing Asian involvement in the Pacific for decades, in 2007 he wrote Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West in which he expressed concern about the rise in power, influence and activity of China in the Pacific, at the same time documenting Asia's Pacific involvement of over 4000 years.

Thirty years ago when almost a lone voice in Pacific publishing, he cultivated hundreds of Pacific writers and ushered in a golden age of Pacific research and publication that is still yielding treasures.

An active and vocal critic of many Pacific governments over the decades, Ron lent his advice on policies ranging from social and land, to security and education. Sometimes the advice was welcomed - sometimes it was not.

But such was the generosity of the man, Ron himself was always welcomed back.


He was one of the Pacific's wonderful characters and at the same time an enthusiast of others' personas. He was a friend to prime ministers, leading academics, and diplomats around the world - but equally to ordinary people.

A lousy cook, he nevertheless threw caution to the wind and invited anyone he met home for a meal or a cuppa. Many ended up doing the cooking.

It was the conversation, wit and wisdom visitors stayed for and remembered.

A memorial service was held for Ron in Auckland last Monday and his funeral was later held in Rarotonga.

Ron Crocombe is survived by his wife Marjorie Tuainekore (herself until recently director of the Centre for Pacific Studies at Auckland University) four children and their families.