and a black--to reach the top of the Greater Washington Board of Trade's old boy-network but, in the final analysis, time intervened and prevented what might have been.

And that, for Flaxie M. Pinkett, as well as for the board of trade, is regrettable.

Five months from now, Pinkett would have assumed the presidency of the board of trade, capping a long and distinguished career and helping the board erect a milestone of sorts. But more than half a century in the real estate firm she heads, and tireless efforts on behalf of business and civic causes, have taken their toll. And it is time, Pinkett was forced to acknowledge, to take a "momentous step."

"I have decided that the time has come to prepare for retirement," she told the board's executive committee Monday in what turned out to be an emotional session. "To make this transition will require virtually all of my time and attention during the months ahead."

Pinkett's resignation as president- lect of metropolitan Washington's largest and most influential business trade organization came as a surprise and disappointment to BOT members.

The relinquishing of the office of president-elect is not without precedent. But prior resignations have not had the same impact, several board officials attest.

BOT members obviously are disappointed because of their personal regard for Pinkett and because she earned the right to be president after more than 20 years as an active member and effective leader in the organization. "Flaxie has carried the ball on many, many occasions for the board in an outstanding manner," current president Thomas J. Owen observed.

Beyond that, however, putting Pinkett in position to become president reflected, in large measure, the board's continuous effort in more recent years to bury its image of a conservative, white male-dominated, special-interest organization.

The ascendency of a black woman to the presidency of the board might have enhanced the organization's credibility in a way no other development in its history has.

As would be expected of any trade and professional group, the board of trade has continued to pursue the special interests of its membership. Under more enlightened leadership in the past 10 or 12 years, however, it has defined and played a more active role in community affairs. And while there still are many who question the board's motives, there can be no denying that it has channeled the expertise and resources of its membership toward improvement in government, education, the environment and other facets of life in the region.

Despite increased membership and greater involvement in board activities by women and blacks in recent years, it "is still perceived as a segregated organization," acknowledged one member. It will take time, he added, to overcome that perception.

"Any institution just doesn't change overnight," BOT president Owen said. "It's a gradual thing."

More than 1,250 corporate members and 5,000 individuals comprise the board's membership. Members of the organization employ an estimated two-thirds of the work force in metropolitan Washington's private sector, yet only seven women and an equal number of blacks are listed among the board's officers and 81 directors.

The void left by Pinkett's resignation (she will continue as a director) will focus more attention--whether it's justified or not--on the gradual change that the organization is undergoing. That much is conceded by some BOT officials.

But as the number of women in corporate roles increases, their membership and influence in the BOT will grow, Owen suggested. The same will be true in the cases of minorities, he added.

Nonetheless, though it won't be another 94 years, it's likely to be a long time before another woman is accorded the two highest honors given by the BOT--being named "Man of the Year" for outstanding contributions to business and the community and being elected to succeed as president.

Pinkett's stature as a businesswoman and political and community leader has led to membership on the boards of three Washington companies; the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest military honor a civilian can receive, and the boards of numerous civic and educational organizations.

It's not hard to understand why board of trade officials speak of a void left by her decision to forego the presidency. Her tenure would have meant a lot in the evolution of the organization.