Simon Crean, who died this week aged 74 on a trade mission to Germany, was the first federal Labor leader not to take the party to an election since 1916.
He relinquished that chance on November 28, 2003, when, convinced he had lost the confidence of the parliamentary Labor party despite having defeated a leadership challenge from Kim Beazley 58 votes to 34 just months before, he announced his resignation.
Mark Latham was elected Labor leader on December 2, defeating Kim Beazley 47-45.
Mr Crean's decision to put the interests of the party first was in stark contrast to the acrimonious backroom deals, ambushes and political hit jobs that became de rigeur for both Labor and the Coalition in the years that followed.
It was also completely in character for a man who, although the son of a former deputy prime minister in the Whitlam government, was a great respecter of persons, had no pretensions to rank and privilege and had an impressive trade union background.
It is ironic that the backstory to 2003's relatively dignified and well-orchestrated transfer of the Labor leadership involved an episode now regarded as Mr Crean's finest hour.
That was his decision to strongly oppose John Howard's decision to commit Australian troops to the war in Iraq as part of "the coalition of the willing" early in 2003.
While Mr Crean, keenly aware of the divisions of the Vietnam era, went to great pains to express support for the ADF personnel being ordered to fight, he did not mince his words on the war itself.
On January 23, 2003, he told Australian troops heading for the Persian Gulf "I don't believe that you should be going. I don't think that there should be a deployment of troops to Iraq ahead of the United Nations determining it.
"But that's a political decision, that's an argument that the Prime Minister and I will have, no doubt, over coming weeks and months."
They did. Just over a week later, he moved a censure motion against John Howard "for not telling the truth" [about the war].
When George W Bush visited Australia that October, Mr Crean told him while Labor's commitment to the alliance and the war on terror was "unshakable", he could not support an illegal war in Iraq based on flawed intelligence.
While Mr Crean's stance has long since been vindicated - the war in Iraq is now credited with having given birth to Islamic State and being a distraction from the war in Afghanistan, which set the stage for the Taliban's ultimate victory - he paid a high price.
His principled dedication to the cause of peace and the invocation of international accords did not go down well with the electorate, despite strong initial strong domestic opposition to the war.
Once the troops were on the ground, public opinion swung back in the government's favour and Labor's polling numbers suffered.
By the time of his resignation in November 2003, Mr Crean's approval rating as opposition leader had fallen to 22 per cent. His rating as the "better Prime Minister" [than John Howard] was 14 per cent.
Having concluded his position was no longer tenable, Mr Crean's decision to step aside was inevitable given his strength of character and commitment to the Labor cause.
It is ironic that despite Mr Crean having left clear air for his successor, Mark Latham spectacularly blew the 2004 election which gave John Howard a historic fourth term.
One of the great "what ifs" of Australian politics is what would would have happened if Mr Crean, not Mark Latham, had taken Labor to the polls that year.
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