When she came here four years ago, they told her Washington was a "company town" whose only business was government, that it was like a "revolving door" with everyone coming from someplace else and "too caught up in bureaucracy to have much time for ordinary civic life."

Thinking back on it later, Rosalynn Carter told the D.C. City Council yesterday at the District Building, "I don't believe I ever heard anyone describe Washington as a real hometown."

But the Carters, "like so many others before us, fell in love with our capital city," she said in a kind of swan song to that company town's governing body, "and we leave pledging to support your continuing efforts to build a community that serves as a shining model for all America."

She spoke near the end of a special session in her honor. Nobody could remember when the wife of a U.S. president had been similarly honored by the D.C. City Council.

"It's truly an historic occasion for our city," Mayor Marion Barry told a standing-room-only crowd jammed into the council chambers to witness the reading and presentation of P.R. 3-628 to Rosalynn Carter.

"Resolved, by the Council of the District of Columbia," began Councilwoman Polly Shackleton, whose idea the tribute had been, "that this resolution may be cited as the 'Rosalynn Carter Appreciation Resolution.'"

Attention by dozens of community leaders focused on a solemn-faced Rosalynn Carter as Shackleton read the 70-line document citing the first lady's "national commitment . . . to build a more caring society" and how that was manifested locally in her support of District projects in the fields of mental health, the aging and community volunteer programs.

At times, as the resolution noted her efforts on behalf of the Green Door, a rehabilitation program for the mentally ill, for D.C. General Hospital, where she helped launch a nursing education program for geriatric patients, her visits to the elderly and support of District public schools and cultural life, the first lady seemed on the verge of tears.

"She was not only a great first lady but a great volunteer," said the mayor, adding "the irony of all this was you did more volunteer work than some of our own citizens . . . You were truly a humanitarian. I am sorry you are leaving this city."

"We will truly miss you," said Beverly Russau, director of the Green Door and spokesperson for others from the community seated in the chambers. Talking with reporters later, Russau said she had "no reason to believe" similar support would not be forthcoming from Nancy Reagan.

Shackleton said she organized the resolution and public tribute because she had felt "so strongly" about what the first lady had done for such community programs and services as Friendship House, the Capital Children's Museum, Jubilee Housing and the Oyster School Bilingual Education Program, as well as the D.C. Youth Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and the D.C. public schools and library.

"I think she expressed many of the things Eleanor Roosevelt did, in encouraging good things be done, but I don't think a lot of people were aware of it," said Shackleton of the public perception of the Carters as "outsiders."

"She wasn't interested in public relations, she was interested in doing the job," Shackleton said after the ceremony. "I don't think she's cold at all, just outwardly very contained."

Called to order by council chairman Arrington Dixon, all but Councilman Dave Clark, in Europe on business, were on hand to join the salute. The body's lone Republican, the Rev. Jerry Moore, said he had endorsed the resolution because "Rosalynn Carter richly deserves the accolades given her here today."

Her husband was another matter.

"I supported Mr. Reagan," said Moore.