Sue Dutton, one of further education's best-known ambassadors, who has consistently campaigned for self-regulation of colleges, has left the Association of Colleges after 15 years.
She has supported four chief executives since her appointment as deputy chief executive in 1997.
Sue, who was born in Bury, Lancashire, studied geography at University College London before going on to fashion retail management. She then moved into further education as a marketing lecturer. Later, she entered higher education as a human resources director.
She worked in human resources for more than 20 years and has extensive experience in higher and further education industrial relations, having played a central role in college pay negotiations.
Apart from her skills as a seasoned union negotiator, she provided continuity at the AoC, particularly during the recent changes, which saw it appoint a president for the first time.
She said: "I would like to thank all my friends and colleagues in the sector and beyond for making my time at the AoC so worthwhile.
"I wish all the excellent staff every success in the future, and I know that under the leadership of Martin Doel and the AoC board, colleges will further command the recognition they so justly deserve.
"It is my intention to pursue some new interests within education policy and leadership."
Martin Doel, chief executive of the association, said: "Throughout her time at AoC, Sue has led the way in influencing government policy at the highest levels, directed national negotiations and provided a highly professional and successful approach to membership and stakeholder engagement.
"I am particularly grateful for the support, guidance and wise counsel that Sue has given me in the first few months of my tenure."
John Bingham, chair of the association, said: "I would like to pay tribute to Sue's wealth of knowledge and expertise, her strong advocacy skills, versatility, high standards and strong leadership.
"On two occasions Sue has taken on the role of chief executive at the AoC with exemplary effect.
"Her significant contribution to colleges is warmly appreciated and we wish her well."