It is Christmas time 1948 and Audrey Campbell is home from college. In her Westchester County mansion, she is sitting around a mahogany table grand enough for 24, explaining a few ideas she heard at school.

Campbell doesn't know it yet, but this is her last night as a student of Mount Holyoke College.

"Her father had three or four of his business friends over," her mother, 94-year-old Eileen Campbell, a Republican now living in Hartford, Conn., recalls. "I can't remember what she said ... {but} when he came up to bed he said, 'Do you know we have a communist on our hands?' "

The next day, Campbell was a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire; her father, who made a fortune exporting oil drilling equipment, had made the arrangements.

If there was a lesson to be learned on that long ago night, Audrey Campbell Moore never paid attention. Asking her to keep her political views to herself is like asking her to stop breathing. Especially when there are businessmen around.

Outspoken, obsessive, audacious Audrey Moore, the Democrat who has just become chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has been one of the area's most vocal and visible crusaders for two decades.

While Annandale supervisor from 1972 to 1986, she infuriated many, if not most, of the Republicans, developers and power brokers in Virginia's largest and most prosperous county. She called them liars, cheats and worse.

Yet apart from the Stop-the-Growth politics that won her a landslide victory over three-term Republican incumbent John F. Herrity and put her into the county's top elected office Jan. 1, little is known about this New York girl who grew up rich.. This 59-year-old mother of three who forsook the country club life, who moved to Washington for love, and who -- at a time when many think about retiring -- worked around the clock to refashion herself from a loud, obnoxious environmentalist to an electable, mild-mannered moderate.

It turns out she knew a lot more than she let on about the wealthy Republican businessmen she built a career railing against. After all, her father was one of them.

Audrey Moore has more constituents than five governors, the 10th largest school system in the United States and a $1.7 billion annual budget. In her first board meeting on Monday she called for a $150-million road bond referendum, the largest in Fairfax County history. She is top gun in a jurisdiction more than six times the size of the District of Columbia.

Audrey Moore? The same tree-hugging citizen activist who once wanted to decentralize the U.S. government in order to ease congestion in her Washington suburb? A loner, as former chairman Herrity phrased it, who if she raised the motion, "couldn't get a second to go to the bathroom"?

St. Audrey of Annandale. The Sewer Lady. Mrs. No. She has been called so many things. She earned the names, too, bashing colleagues for "selling out" to developers, usually casting the sole "no" vote and arguing that fewer sewers today mean less development tomorrow. And all the while, doing it as though she were listening to "Shout," the song that goes, "A little bit louder now ... "

"She would continue to push her point even if it drowned out other board members," Democratic Supervisor Joe Alexander said during the campaign.

But in 1987 she managed to remold her outsider image. She spoke in softer tones, broadened her vision and bent a little. She wanted to win so badly that she remade herself and her style. Mindful of the television audience, she lost 40 pounds and replaced her baggy dresses with tailored suits. She even got some professional coaching to liven up her speeches.

When the polls closed, she knocked off the incumbent, 2 to 1.

As stunning as her late-life transformation and victory over Herrity were, her motivating beliefs and obsession with local politics are what make Audrey Moore strikingly different from most women brought up playing classical piano, riding horses and dining at the Bonnie Breen Country Club.

She is disturbed that some have so much and others have so little. She believes everyone deserves more than concrete views and bumper-to-bumper traffic. She is fueled by the feeling that others' lives are better because of her.

But it took years before she found herself working from 6 a.m. until midnight, consumed by politics.

"When she first came to Washington, Audrey didn't know anything about money," says Malcolm (Mac) W. Houston, who was engaged to Moore after a long courtship that began at the University of New Hampshire. "If she saw a dress for $500, she didn't know if it was cheap or expensive. Her father would get it for her.

"She was brought up in a millionaire's house on Millionaire's Row in Millionaireville," adds Houston, who is now a trial lawyer in Montgomery County and remains a friend. Houston remembers her delight 35 years ago when she visited Keene, N.H., the first small town she had ever been to. "She loved it, she told me she never knew real people before."

After graduation, Moore wanted to become a lawyer, but her parents wouldn't pay the tuition, arguing it wasn't the kind of thing a lady did. Instead, she was sent to the Katharine Gibbs secretarial school in Manhattan.

She didn't like Katie Gibbs, but the daily commute from Larchmont would leave lasting impressions.

"I would sit on that train and look out at the apartments on West 125th Street and think that was terrible," she recalled recently.

Her mother remembers, too: "She would look out the window and say people shouldn't have to live like that."

It was 1950; Moore was 21.

"My parents had wealthy, wealthy friends ... " Moore says, her voice trailing off. "Through observation, I learned really important things don't come with money. My goodness, with my knowledge {of land-use and development}, I could have gone out and played real-life Monopoly with the rest of these people.

"Below a certain level, life can be pretty grim, but beyond a certain level how many beds can you sleep on? How many steaks can you eat?

"The old cliche' 'money doesn't bring happiness' -- beyond a certain point -- is true. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, until you get on the other side."

She practices what she preaches.

She has driven the same car for the past five years, lived for 25 years in the same red brick, white-shuttered house off Rte. 236 in the heart of Fairfax County. Until last year, she would wear the same dress repeatedly, worrying far more about the fine print in board proposals than what she looked like. She finds the worst part of her job the ribbon-cuttings and obligatory receptions.

Nowhere, not in her house nor on her office walls, are there signs of the dozens of awards and honors she has won over the years. No plaques, no certificates, no photographs of her with Rich or Famous.

"She is just you and me except she happens to be chairman of the county board," says Janice Spector, who worked night and day with Moore during the campaign as her spokesman.

"It's kind of hard to believe she's chairman," says Harris Miller, chairman of Fairfax County's Democratic Party. "She is an ordinary citizen type who for years was a loner."

In the late 1960s, she discovered that Minnie Barber, a woman who helped her with the children and the housekeeping, lived in a Fairfax community where there was no indoor plumbing. It brought back memories of the poverty she'd glimpsed in Harlem as the train passed by.

Claire Taylor, one of Moore's two sisters, recalls how this upset Moore: "She saw the outhouses and she said, 'I shouldn't have all these things if it's at the cost of others not having it.' "

Her discomfort with being a have while there were have-nots simmered while she raised her three sons. So did her feeling that her knowledge of the business world somehow made it her duty to be its watchdog. But as her children entered school, with John F. Kennedy's call for more equality and less poverty still in her mind, she made her move.

An economics major, Moore decided the best way to be effective was to have the facts and figures. She found herself studying planning maps, zoning laws and land-use regulations. She used the county planning office like others use a public library.

"She would do her homework and I would do mine," her son Andrew remembers.

The threat of destruction of Barber's neighborhood, one of the county's oldest black communities, inspired her to read and inquire more.

She discovered that the Fairfax health department, citing unsanitary conditions, was telling residents of Zion Drive in Barber's neighborhood to move even though county engineers were planning a new sewage system for that area. In addition, a Realtor who knew about the sewer plans was trying to buy up Zion Drive (near what is now George Mason University) to turn a profit.

"I was so angry," Moore said, as though it happened yesterday. "The Realtor knocked on their doors trying to buy up the development. These people didn't know that they shouldn't take the money; the health department was telling them they had to get out."

One of the first things Moore did after being elected to the nine-member board of supervisors was to help stop the Zion Drive evictions and speed plumbing for the area.

With the same sense of mission in preserving Zion Drive, Moore tackled the environmental issues with which she's most often associated -- saving parks, blocking developments and arguing for more open space.

She is like Ann Landers, according to a son. An old-fashioned moralist who gets upset about unmarried couples living together. The strongest language she uses is "Holy Ned" and "Holy Smoke."

She laughs at jokes five minutes after the punch line. Concentrating on one topic at a time and moving to the next when she is ready, she is heard chuckling "oh, yeah," long after others have forgotten the witticism.

She is constantly battling heartburn and weight, carrying bottles of antacids wherever she goes and keeping diet salad dressing in her pocket.

She is intense, intelligent, driven and, to some, a bit odd.

Especially when she looks straight at you with those thick, gold-rimmed eyeglasses and begins her unabridged version of Fairfax County history, from the top, again.

She is passionate about land use and can't learn -- or tell -- enough about it.

"Traveling?" she responds. "Oh, someday I would like to go to Europe. Europeans have done such wonderful things with land use, to get back to that topic ... "

She isn't kidding.

Independent and high-spirited, Moore takes after her mother, who set off for Venezuela to work as a nurse in the 1920s, as well as her oil man father, who had emigrated to South America from Canada. Moore's parents met and married in Venezuela, and Moore was born there, in Maracaibo, in 1928. They moved to the New York area when she was 3.

"She was determined to go down there," Eileen Campbell says of her daughter's move to Washington in 1950. "I couldn't stop her. I didn't want her to go down there at all."

Her father didn't either. William Campbell kept an apartment in the District for business use, and lobbied to get his eldest daughter back to New York and away from Mac Houston, of whom he did not approve.

Houston describes their long courtship during that time as one of "white-hot intense flame," one that had high highs and low lows. Houston and Moore are reluctant to talk about that period in their lives.

All the while, from 1950 to 1955, Moore was working as an administrative assistant to Anna Van Sickler, a Washington trademark specialist and lobbyist who only used her first initial so people wouldn't know her sex.

Then, in 1954, Audrey Campbell met Samuel V. Moore. They met one Sunday on a hike in the Blue Ridge, and have now been married for 32 years. They have lived in Fairfax since 1956.

Samuel Moore, now retired from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, has since 1949 maintained 2.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail as a volunteer. He leads Boy Scout expeditions, gardens and hates politics. He's determined to stay out of the spotlight, and shies from interviews.

"Believe me," Audrey Moore says, "he only tolerates this."

"She does her thing and I do mine," he says on a recent Sunday morning in their home in Annandale. Then, only half-kidding about the time his wife spends away from home, he adds: "And once in a while we say 'hello' when we pass."

Far from extravagant, her home is simply furnished. She has no new furniture, no high-tech gadgets, barely a painting on the wall. She talks about other people's houses that are so neat and fancy "you can't even live in it."

As Sam Moore, a handsome, white-haired outdoorsman, talks about the bird feeder in their back yard and eats a piece of Entenmann's coffeecake, his wife settles down on their sofa with a cup of tea and starts talking roads.

Not that anyone wanted her to talk about roads, the topic that dominated the 1987 Fairfax election, but because the words seemed to come out involuntarily.

"We have got to step up the whole {road-building} program; beef up the whole effort," she says, sitting there in her purple slippers that almost match the lavender swirls in her flannel dress.

An intensely private person, she cannot believe anyone outside her family knows a detail such as the "communist incident" that led to her quick enrollment in the University of New Hampshire.

She would clearly rather talk about sidewalks than herself.

But this morning she will be asked to put Audrey the Politician aside.

For a moment she does.

She is asked what her father, who died in 1963, would think of her victory and of the opposition to her in the business community.

She settles back on the worn green sofa and thinks. You know when she's thinking, because she could miss an earthquake when she starts concentrating in her intense way, her blue-green eyes focused directly ahead.

"I've often wondered about that," she says. "Politicians were not his favorite people. He did not like Washington. He was not impressed with the red tape and the government ... I think he'd be surprised. He had very little, if any, respect for politicians."

Her husband would rather explore a cave for days than listen to a political speech for an hour. Their three children, Rob, 30, Andrew, 28, and Doug, 26, outlaw political discussions at the dinner table.

"My family," she explains, "kind of loves me in spite of my job."

Moore doesn't like to talk about it, but for more than a decade, she tutored her youngest son Doug, who was born with a learning disability.

She volunteered to direct research for the Fairfax Association for Children with Learning Disabilities. She prodded the schools into dealing more adeptly with children with special problems. She scouted and found the best teachers. By her own admission, she "practically did a dissertation" on learning disabilities.

Doug, who works as a handyman for a Fairfax office complex, says, "I'm grateful for all she did. When I didn't want to do it, she stuck with me.

"She told me, 'Anybody gives you a hard time, be polite and say thank you very much,' " Doug says. "She does the same thing."

Despite Audrey Moore's tough public persona, there is a soft side of her that most never see.

The constant battering she took over the years from board members and such developers as John T. (Til) Hazel took its toll.

"I never thought it bothered her," said Democrat Sharon Bulova, who succeeded Moore as Annandale supervisor. "But one of the reasons she ran for chairman is she didn't want to go through another four years of being treated that way. She didn't want another four years of that kind of abuse."

Doug Moore says he knew his mother was growing weary of "people like {former Republican supervisor} Nancy Falck and Jack Herrity chewing on her all the time."

Hoping to get a mandate from the voters that would force her colleagues to listen to her, Moore entered a race that she knew could end her 16-year public career.

Last spring, fervently believing that her vision for Fairfax County was the better one, and realizing it might be her only way to implement meaningful zoning changes and building regulations, she decided to take the gamble.

It was a grueling campaign that tested even her remarkable energy and nerve. The business community spent hundreds of thousands on Herrity's campaign. Herrity himself made several disparaging comments, including a statement that he had "absolutely no respect" for her.

"If you go back and snarl and snap, they know you can't take it," Doug remembers his mother saying.

Moore never spoke of Herrity personally, except to say they were once friends.

Moore's son Andrew, an accountant in Alexandria, said that despite what the public might think, his mother "does not pound on the dinner table." He laughs at the thought and says, "She is a very warm person."

"She comes across pretty steely and flinty, but there is a soft side," says Supervisor Martha Pennino, a Reston Democrat, adding that she was amazed when she learned that Moore would often spend her vacations caring for her husband's elderly aunt.

A difficult person to know, Moore has many in Fairfax trying to figure her out. The biggest questions are: Has she really changed and what will she be able to do?

In particular, skeptical eyes are watching as she tries to fulfil promises of slowing construction and easing traffic.

"I haven't known how she would solve the {traffic} problem," said Glen Urquhart, a McLean developer. "She can't put an Uzi on the Beltway and shoot half the people to get rid of half the traffic."

So far, she is faring well. During a Dec. 15 speech, Moore won a standing ovation from hundreds of businessmen and developers when she told them she would not be "doing through the back door what you can't do through the front door."

In days past, she would have done almost anything to slow development.

In that speech, she also deleted a key paragraph about the Springfield Bypass from her prepared text because of concern that she should first discuss it with state Secretary of Transportation Vivian E. Watts.

In the old days, Moore didn't spare anyone.

Not even Gov. Gerald L. Baliles. Baliles, who as attorney general advised the board of supervisors that it was powerless to adopt voluntary limits on campaign contributions, a proposed effort to curb the power land developers wield in local politics.

Moore responded to the advice with: "I think we should ignore his opinion. If you accepted his logic you couldn't drive 45 miles per hour because you'd be voluntarily driving below 55 miles per hour, and that's ridiculous."

But despite her new restraint and new diplomacy, some things about Moore don't change.

The day before the Nov. 3 election, when campaign spokesman Spector, county Democratic chairman Miller and campaign director Toddy Puller left her after one last strategy session in downtown Washington, they asked her how she was getting home.

"She said she was going to take the bus," Spector recalled, still amazed. "She didn't even want to take a cab. I thought, this woman is about to be chairman of the board of supervisors and she is riding the bus."