Paul Mackney, the former general secretary of the University and College Union, which he helped to create, is retiring due to ill health.
Since 2007, Mr Mackney (left) has worked with Niace, the adult education body, campaigning to restore the broad-based lifelong learning which was swept aside in the rush for formal qualifications.
But last week, a fortnight before his 59th birthday, Mr Mackney announced his retirement in May after the latest of several spells in hospital with a heart condition.
He said: "I wish lecturers in FE were paid what they deserve and I would like to see the expansion of adult education by about 2 million places. But it really is time for me to stop running the gauntlet."
Nevertheless, he has already got involved in a new campaign: saving Swanage First School in Dorset, where his niece works, from closure, with the help of one of his Bob Dylan-influenced protest songs.
Mr Mackney started teaching social studies at Poole Technical College in 1974, before taking up a full-time position at Hall Green Technical College in Birmingham, where he spent the next 17 years.
By 1992, he was appointed regional official for Natfhe in the West Midlands and became general secretary in 1997, with the union divided and Pounds 1 million in the red.
Nicknamed "Deals on Wheels" in his early trade union career, his most significant pact was probably the one that merged Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers to create a 120,000-strong union.
Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, praised Mr Mackney's "creativity and brio" which he brought to strengthening the institute's links with unions and in establishing the Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning to protect adult learning.