The board of the new FE superbody faces a snap by-election following the death at the weekend of Derek Coomber, one of its most prominent members.
As chair of governors at East Surrey College, Mr Coomber, 70, was a founder member of the Colleges' Employers' Forum, which merged last month with the Association for Colleges. He died quietly in his sleep after feeling "a little unwell".
A world-class rower for 50 years, he had only this spring rowed in a veterans' team at the Henley Regatta. He was described by principals and FE advisers variously as "a CEF hardliner", "a brilliant team player" and "a very good committee anchor man".
The new board of the merged Association of Colleges (AOC) was anxious not to let his death delay the appointment of a chief executive, which it hopes will be decided by September 10. The futures of the former chief executives Ruth Gee (AFC) and Roger Ward (CEF) will then be decided.
Both are contenders for the new post, the appointment for which is being handled by the independent recruitment agency, NB Selection. The agency was keeping its applicants list under close wraps, but is understood to have been disappointed that only around 20 people had applied by the deadline for entries.
Some unexpected names are understood to be on the list, including John Akker, general secretary of the college lecturers' union NATFHE.
Others are said to include Roger Brown, chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, Roger Maclure, finance director at the Further Education Funding Council, and Laurie South, former chief executive of the London and South East Regional Advisory Council for FE.
The shortlist of candidates to go forward for interview on September 5 was due to be decided as The TES went to press. An interview panel, drawn from the AOC board, is being chaired by Ray Dennison, chair of governors at Barnsley College and widely viewed as an impartial operator.
It is understood that just one name will be decided from the shortlist, to go forward for interview by the full board. If they fail to agree on the appointment, the job - which demands the skills of influencing ministers, making sound business and financial judgments, excellent PR skills and a firm knowledge of FE - is certain to be readvertised.
The strongest feeling expressed by principals contacted by The TES this week was that the appointee should be from the FE sector. They had great hopes for David Melville, who comes from Middlesex University, to succeed Sir William Stubbs as chief executive of the FEFC, but felt the best AOC person would be someone who was "home-grown."