Sandra Horley, chief executive and company secretary at Refuge, will retire in October after 37 years in the role.
Horley is stepping down from her duties with immediate effect due to planned leave.
She has led the charity since 1983, working for the needs of women and children escaping domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.
Consultant Carole Easton has been named interim chief executive while Refuge starts its search for a permanent successor.
The charity said Horley’s direction and leadership has seen the organisation “go from strength to strength and achieved outstanding success in becoming a credible expert in the sector, and a vital support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse”.
On behalf of the board and the entire staff team, Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, the charity’s chair, said: “I want to thank Sandra for her long and renowned career with Refuge and her unwavering support for the many women and children she has helped over the years. It’s an incredible achievement, devoting so much of her career and energy to a cause that we all care about so much.
“I wish her my very best wishes for the future and, as a Board alongside all of our staff and volunteers, we will do our absolute best to build on her legacy so Refuge can increase the support we provide for women and children escaping domestic abuse.”
In recognition ‘for services to the protection of women and children’ Horley was awarded an OBE in 1999, and a CBE in 2011 ‘for services to the prevention of domestic violence.’
She said: “Now is the right time for me to retire from Refuge. I am proud to have led the charity over the last 37 years. It is now established as the leading service provider in this country for those fleeing domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. It has also been at the forefront of the campaign to change social attitudes to these issues.”