As Woodward & Lothrop Chairman Edwin Hoffman described it last night, the arrival in his office recently of three leading business and civic leaders led him to sense it was "more than an ordinary occasion."

"It is what usually happens when somebody is looking for either a contribution or a person to run a fund-raising campaign," he told hundreds of business people and city politicians at the May-flower Hotel ballroom. "They noticed my furtive look as though I were trying to escape and came to the point very quickly," he added.

But Hoffman was surprised when he heard them out. They were members of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade "man of the years" committe and they had selected Hoffman to win the local business community's major honor for 1979.

"I must admit I flabbergasted," said Hoffman, to an audience that was laughing much of the night at the genial roasting he received in honor of his honor.

But Hoffman himself is just about the most quotable businessman in this town and his own remarks last night were both sober and humorous. At one point, for example, he spoke of D.C. Major Marion Barry and City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon. ". . . I like what I see they are doing for the city. They are agrressive, industrious, understanding of conflicting viewpoints, and I think we are most fortunate to have this brand of strong leadership."

At this point, Hoffman paused to note that the message was coming "from a guy who supported Sterling Tucker and then asked former Mayor Walter Washington to join [the Woodies] board."

Hoffman, whose firm has been a major department store retailer here for a century (as of next year), also said he would have been satisfied if word hadn't got out to the rest of the world about "what a great area this is," a reference to the influx of Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus and others in recent years.

He also noted what he said was "an obligation" by local business people to make a civic contribution here, "We don't have a lot of corporate headquarter . . . the civic burden falls heavily on a smaller group than it normally would in a city of our size . . . all I know is if a cause is right, People don't say no."

According to the Board of Trade selection committee, Hoffman is one of the people who don't say "no." He was cited last night for "long-standing service . . . involvement in the community," reflecting such tasks as board member of the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap and the American Cancer Society and trustee at George Washington University.

As for Woodies, Hoffman told a reporter that the independent retailer-one of few local department store business remaining in the country-would remain just that. He denied absolutely trade reports that R. H. Macy & Co. and Marshall Field ahd recently discussed consolidation, "Years and years ago" there may have been a discussion over coffee, but nothing of a serious nature.

And sales in 1979 are far ahead of expectations by Woodies management, he added. "It's booming, with a sensational April and a super May so far."

WOMEN AT WORK-The Women's Outreach Research Center has scheduled an extensive series of free public discussions for women "who want to work for themselves," on Wednesday nights at the D.C. West End Public Library, 24th and L Sts. NW

The first program features Women's National Bank President Emily Womach on "investment management." Other topics include publicity, government consulting-recruitment, tax exempt status and budget projections.

HILTON VERSAILLES-Many of th e good deeds of business people go unrecognized.

An example is Sylvan Gershowitz, hardly a household name here. Inside the parking lot business, everyone knows Fershowitz as president of Monument Parking Co. and new president of the Wahington Parking Association.

But even in his own industry, who knows the story of how Gershowitz in five years have developed a major fund araising event for the American Cancer Society's D.C. division?

According to people at the Cancer Society, fund raising endeavors "have never been the same" since Gershowitz first became involved in 1974. He convinced the society that instead of having numerous small events, one big gala would attract more profitable. His idea: the American Cancer Society Ball.

The first dinner dance took place in 1975, with then-First Lady Betty Ford serving as honorary patron, 400 guests in attendance and a return to the Cancer Society of an unprecedented $42,000.

Last Saturday night, at the Washington Hilton, Gershowitz's efforts attracted 1,200 guests. From the business community, 25 firms each gave $2,500 to cover such expenses as that of the Peter Duchin orchestra. Actor Richard Crenna was a special guest and the ball raised $135,000. The hotel ballroom was decorated as Versailles garden.

BRINGING UP STOCKS-"The stock market is truly a cross-section of life itself." So says Kennedy Hooley, a former securities salesman, who has been engaged in extensive technical analysis of the stock market for 17 years. "Emotion is what makes life what it is. Emotion is what makes the stock market go up and down. Both can be harnessed and disciplined to predictable result," he advises from his home in suburban Annandale.

Hooley, who wrote a series on technical analysis for The Washington Post last year, has developed what he calls a theory of harmonic price projection, based on mathematics and bar charting. This method can predict future stock movements with roughly 90 percent accuracy and help investors "manage their portfolios on a logical basis rather than an emotional basis."

Later this month, Hooley is going public with his theory at a workshop of George Washington University's College of General Studies. Called "short term stock and market forecasting," the workshop is May 23 at the Ramada Inn in Rosslyn, 7 p.m. CAPTION: Picture, EDWIN HOFFMAN . . . Woodies to stay independent