Try as he might, President Reagan never could get the attention of the collection taker Sunday during Easter services at the Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church near Solvang, Calif.

Before he and Nancy Reagan ever left their Santa Barbara ranch that morning, Reagan had filled out a check for Easter giving, putting it in his jacket pocket where he could easily get to it when the plate was passed, the first lady told her press secretary, Elaine Crispen.

The plate never was passed, at least to the Reagans. For reasons known only to God, perhaps, the collection taker skipped the front pew where the Reagans sat.

Only after the Rev. Jeffrey Cotter realized what had happened and assured his flock that donations would be accepted on the way out did Reagan rest easy.

Just to make sure, he handed his check to Cotter personally, Crispen said.

"It's hard to give money away these days," she said.

Barbara Gibson, Rose Kennedy's personal secretary-turned-author, says the Kennedy clan matriarch never knew how much Gibson was paid during the four years she worked there full time.

"She thought I was making about $10,000 a year," Gibson said last week. She was here to plug her new book, "Life With Rose Kennedy: An Intimate Account," published by Warner Books.

Gibson actually was making $15,000 plus benefits that included a car, places to live in both Palm Beach, Fla., and Hyannis, Mass., all utilities and a food allowance.

She said the first time she went to Palm Beach, she was so surprised to find a beach-front low-rise condominium awaiting her that she called the Kennedys' New York office to make sure she was supposed to live there. She was assured that "whatever was suitable" was fine with them because they wanted her to be happy.

"I could walk right out to the ocean but Mrs. Kennedy didn't know this. She used to give me winter coats to take home to use as blankets. I had central heat but I didn't tell her because then she'd get mad at the New York office," Gibson said.

* Despite the family's millions, Gibson said Rose Kennedy could be eccentric about such matters as maintaining her Palm Beach mansion and tipping for services rendered.

She often sent printed copies of the late John F. Kennedy's favorite passages of scripture to people who wrote her. "And when she'd go on trips, she'd have me give her 50 or 100 copies so she could hand them out in lieu of tips sometime," Gibson said. "She'd ask, 'What is your name, dear?' and she'd write 'to . . . ' at the top, and at the bottom 'Rose Kennedy.' Then she'd say, 'Save this. Someday it'll be worth money' to cab drivers, bellboys, the girl who washed her hair."

Gibson's book will probably provide Kennedy-watchers new fodder for their fascination, but she said she doesn't think it's "one of those airing the linen" things like the even more gossipy book Joan Kennedy's secretary wrote about her.

And does Gibson have any pangs of guilt about the book, which she wrote with collaborator Caroline Latham?

"Some," admits Gibson, who claims she never kept a diary even though Rose Kennedy had urged her to. "There's a lot of things I still feel a certain loyalty to her about, but on the other hand, I realized I can't really hurt her now by revealing anything she said because she's beyond it."

She says Kennedy, 95, lives most of the year in Hyannis attended by round-the-clock nurses. Gibson left Kennedy's employ in late 1977 and now is selling real estate in Palm Beach.

"She can't say yes to all of them," says Elaine Crispen, Nancy Reagan's press secretary. But from the number of groups Mrs. Reagan is supporting as honorary chairman -- including the antidrug Just Say No Clubs -- neither does she seem able to say no.

At the moment, Mrs. Reagan is also the honorary chairman of the 1986 Walks Against Drugs, Girl Scouts of America, CARE, Gift of Life, National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth (NFP), Girls Clubs of America, Child Help USA, D.C. Special Olympics, Cynthia Gregory Celebration Tour, Hope Ball, International Children's Festival, Second Genesis, Hospital for Sick Children, March of Dimes Gala, Wolf Trap Foundation, Washington Opera Ball, American Diabetes Association, National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans, National Child Watch Campaign, Great American Families Anniversary Awards and Phoenix House Anniversary Awards.

She's also vice president of Boy Scouts International.

Crispen says Mrs. Reagan makes the final decision about whether she'll lend her name to a group, but before a request ever reaches her, the East Wing staff has determined if the group is compatible with her interests in children and fighting drug abuse.

Currently, a message from Mrs. Reagan is included in the two-volume "Operation Prom/Graduation" manual published by NFP. It is designed to encourage parents and school and community leaders to support alcohol-free and drug-free activities connected with high school proms and graduations.

And once again, Mrs. Reagan is honorary chairman of "Super Ball '86," the Second Genesis fundraiser on April 14 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. Headlining the entertainment will be singer Natalie Cole, whose own battle against drugs has made her one of the more sought-after celebrities in the crusade against drug abuse.

Nancy Reagan will have a comeback the next time her husband looks skyward and tells her not to worry, that the fog will lift in time for them to go horseback riding.

She can pin on the current fashion fad among the Santa Barbara-based White House staff and the White House press corps, who are apparently fed up with the fog. It's a button that reads:

"Don't worry, it'll burn off by 10, 11, 12, dusk" -- with 10, 11 and 12 crossed out.

Nancy Reagan will dedicate the Loyal Davis Neuro-Trauma Center of the private, nonprofit National Rehabilitation Hospital at 102 Irving St. NW on Monday. The center was named for her late father, the Chicago neurosurgeon.