Remembering a remarkable man
COOK ISLANDS NEWS
FRI 13 AUG
Once in a while remarkable people walk into our lives and they never leave – even when they die. Those were the words of Pacific author and academic Professor Albert Wendt talking at yesterday’s festschrift for Professor Ron Crocombe.
Wendt first got to know Papa Ron, as he was fondly known, and his wife Marjorie in the early 1970s when they convinced him to move from Samoa to the University of the South Pacific’s Laucala Bay campus in Suva in 1973. He said looking back it was one of the best moves he and his family ever made and he will be forever grateful to the Crocombes.
Wendt was a keynote speaker at the two-day ‘Conference for Festschrift for Ron Crocombe’ which began at the USP, Rarotonga yesterday. The gathering is to celebrate the life of the well-respected academic who championed the Pacific and Pacific academics. The gathering was attended by around 100 colleagues, friends and families.
In academia, a festschrift is a book honouring a respected person, especially an academic. Wendt said many academics had voyaged on the Crocombe vaka and while some wanted to “jump ship” because the captain was too demanding, those on the journey gained immensely.
Papa Ron’s son Tata said his father always loved such Pacific gatherings as the festschrift but would have never accepted the invitation if he had known it was about him. “He would probably be waving placards outside in protest,” he said as the audience smiled and nodded in agreement.
Attendees were yesterday welcomed into the festschrift with a traditional turou before a hymn and a prayer began proceedings.
Papa Ron died last year in Auckland on his way back home to Rarotonga after a trip to Tonga. Makiuti Tongia, the president of the Cook Islands Research Association, said the wind and rain on Wednesday night indicated Papa Ron’s presence at the gathering.
Prime Minister Jim Marurai, who welcomed guests, said Papa Ron had made “an enormous impact on us all”. Marurai said Papa Ron was a man who held up a mirror so people could see and learn about themselves, even if that image was harsh. “He was one of our favourite sons,” Marurai said.
The conference for the late Prof Crocombe, an Emeritus Professor of Pacific Studies, continues today and will feature a number of papers presented by people who had worked with him or whose lives he had touched as well as tributes and personal recollections from his family.
A portrait of Papa Ron by Dominic Crocombe was also unveiled at the conference yesterday.
The memories to be shared at the conference go back to the early days in Papua New Guinea, his time at the Australian National University, and his time at the USP in Fiji, but also include some more recent recollections from two Japanese academics who worked with Prof. Crocombe on surveying the Holocene geomorphic development of Rarotonga. Or most simply put, determining how old Rarotonga is.
Prof. Crocombe has been described as many things a great scholar, historian, commentator and distinguished academic. But, perhaps more than that, he will always be remembered as someone who recognised the potential in everyone regardless of their station in life.