"If ever there was a time that the government should have an award like this, it is now, when people need to know there is more to public service than paychecks, furloughs and Abscam," said Phillip S. Hughes last night at the 1981 Rockefeller Public Service Awards dinner.

Hughes, under secretary of the Smithsonian and a 1973 recipient of the Rockefeller Award, was one of 450 people gathered in the Mayflower Hotel grand ballroom in tribute to this year's honorees and to the award itself in this, its final year. Guests included Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.), Blanchette Rockefeller and former Rockefeller Award recipients.

"In the beginning I thought it was a fine idea," said Blanchette Rockefeller, widow of John D. Rockefeller III, who founded the award in 1952 with Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "I am very sorry to see it end," she said.

The award is given to workers in government and those in the private sector who have made a significant contribution to the public welfare.

"I can't tell you of the feeling of rejuvenation among myself and the staff and even among the women miners this award has given," said award recipient Betty Jean Hall, director of the Coal Employment Project.

Each of this year's eight winners was anxious to speak out for his or her cause. "It is a demonstration that the search for peace is important right now," said Herbert Scoville Jr., president of the Arms Control Association. "That is something you don't see much of in Washington anymore."

"This award comes at a time when we all need to reassess the impact of corporate policies on human concerns," said recipient Marian Wright Edelman, director and founder of the Children's Defense Fund.

Also honored were Phyllis R. Farley and Ruth Watson Lubic, cofounders of the Maternity Center Association, New York City; Dr. Robert A. Hatcher, director of the Emory University-Grady Memorial Hospital Family Planning Program, Atlanta; Charles Prejean, executive director for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Atlanta; and Dr. Richard Smith, director of the Health Manpower Development Staff at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine.

"To have your contribution recognized," said 1977 Rockefeller award winner Sophia Bracy Harris of Montgomery, Ala., "is to have wiped away all the doubts you may have about what you doing."