Tish Hooker remembers that when she was growing up she was uncomfortable that her mother, who was prematurely gray, looked older than everyone else's mother. "I was determined not to let my hair look like that," says Hooker, shaking her head of shoulder-length silver-gray hair. at 17, she noticed her own first gray hair, and for 25 years she dyed away the gray.

Then two years ago, Hooker, who was in town this week to represent Germaine Monteil cosmetics at Hecht's and to judge the Women of the Year Over 40 contest at radio station WWRC, decided gray hair wasn't so bad after all.

She stopped coloring her hair while on a long vacation with her three children. "All this white hair started coming through and I thought maybe it could be beautiful. And besides, I figured there had to be a better way to spend time than dyeing my hair," said Hooker. "For someone with all the confidence in the world, it always bothered me that I was offended when the dark roots started to show."

Adds Hooker, "It is the smartest decision I have ever made; I'm much handsomer. This hair is a gift not many people have. It's fun having it as a distinguishing feature."

So distinguishing that people now recognize her on the street, from her picture on the cover of Town & Country magazine, her photograph in Monteil ads and regular television appearances, including the "Panorama" show here.

She's had to change her makeup slightly and has given up wearing yellow. And for the first time she is wearing a lot of gray. In Washington last week, she was wearing a chintz jacket with flowers and an ankle bracelet. Her bag had a hang tag marked "Hooker."

Hooker decided two years ago to move to New York. She had been a successful interior decorator -- she had done Barbara Mandrell's home and tour bus and was completing the governor's mansion in Tennessee.

When she learned Germaine Monteil was searching for a woman over 40 to represent its cosmetics for older women, she approached them and was told the selection would be made through a contest. There were 7,000 entries, and Hooker and a woman from Long Island were the finalists.

Hooker told a Germaine Monteil executive, "If you want someone to go across this country and look pretty, there are a lot of women better looking, but if you want someone to go out and talk well, I'm your person. Miss Long Island may have firmer thighs, but bring her along and I'll eat her alive."

Her year-long contract is up at the end of this year, but don't worry about her. She's got an agent, the same one as Raquel Welch, a good possibility of a book, and a new beau, Kenneth Schemerhorn, conductor of the Hong Kong symphony, who also happens to have silvery gray hair. He told her, "I know I will love you when you are old and gray."