There were the words of reassurance:

"The world isn't going to come to an end," said Patricia Derian, assistant secretary of state for human rights, whose hold on that title comes to an end Tuesday when the new administration and its foreign policy take over. "The sky isn't going to fall."

But there were a few sniffles in the Rayburn Office Building, where about a hundred people -- most involved in human rights work -- gathered at a luncheon to honor Derian. She has been a controversial and firm advocate in the State Department for human rights -- "tilting against gray-flannel windmills," said one who spoke at the luncheon.

"Well," said Derian, standing after numerous testimonials to her effectiveness, "here I am in my gray flannel suit. Actually," she said through the group's laughter, "I always had a gray flannel suit. It's good camouflage."

Some of the guests were longtime activists in human and civil rights, all bearing words of praise for Derian, some bearing sober words about the still uncertain Reagan administration policies on human rights issues.

"This is what may be the last hurrah for a noble struggle in its last days," said Laurence Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Not that he should worry about his own private organization. One of his regular supporters upped her usual $500 contribution to $2,500 since the presidential election and included a note saying, "You need it now more than ever."

Before people were seated at the lunch, given by the Center for International Policy, Derian simply stood outside in the hallway receiving good wishes from the likes of Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.) of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Amnesty International's Jose Zalaquett, the Institute for Policy Studies' Bob Borosage Isabel Letelier and others.

"Ah, there she is with her beautiful eyes," exclaimed Father Robert Drinan, who left Congress this year at the orders of the Pope. He ran up to Derian, bestowing a big kiss upon her cheek.

"President Carter made human rights the soul of the administration's foreign policy," said Drinan in his remarks during lunch. "Patt Derian has made it the substance of our foreign policy. . . Her name is known among the refuseniks and the dissidents of Argentina and Chile and Guatemala. . ." t

"When I listen to people who speak for the new administration," said Derian, "I run the spectrum from thinking, 'They're Americans -- when they get in there, they'll see how things really are,' to 'They'll dismantle the whole thing and bring shame to our country.' No matter how much you long for 19th-century foreign policy based on commercial and economic needs, there is no way you can squeeze American foreign policy back into those silk breeches. It just won't work. There's no use in having countries where people hate us because we were propping up dictators we thought people wanted."

But a few at the gathering were not so optimistic about the future of human-rights policy. "This is my graveside suit," Laurence Birns said of his somber three-piece attire. "I've been wearing it a lot these days."