The setting was the quiet, country atmosphere of the English Tea Room Restaurant in Woodward and Lothrop's Washington store. A former governor, corporate executives of a national cosmetic firm, the executive management of Woodie's and a bevy of Washingtonians turned out for a dinner Monday evening to salute members of Washington's volunteer corps.

"Professionals may have more experience and bureaucrats may have more money, but they don't have the love you need to get things done," guest speaker George Romney, former governor of Michigan and now chairman of the National Center for Voluntary Action, told the gathering.

The 1978 Volunteer Activist Awards were presented to five women and six metropolitan area service organizations who had the love to get the job done in Washington. The winners were chosen from 150 nominees in the second annual Washington ceremony sponsored by Woodward and Lothrop and the Germaine Monteil cosmetic firm.

Individual recipients of silver trays were Washingtonians Elizabeth Cantarow and Evelyn S. Nef; Garde Chessnoe, of Annandale, Va.; Bobbi E. Piper, of Bowie, Md., and Sol delAnde Eaton, of Lanham, Md.

Representatives accepting the awards for the six service organizations were: Ann Warhauser, founder and program coordinator the Alexandria Rape Victim Companion Program; Mona Asiner, director of Project Transistion, a counseling service for ex-offenders and their families; Horace Saunders, founder of the Metro Maryland Ostomy Association and Youth Group; Kathy Stief, president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, a 200-member civic association representing the residents of southwest Washington; Dr. Margaret Rockwell, founder of The Washington Ear, a closed-circuit radio news broadcast for the blind, and Jo Ann Cubbage, chairman of Amen Inc., an Arlington service agency which provided $23,000 in grants last year to people in financial crises.

Waldo Burnside, executive vice president of Woodward and Lothrop was master of ceremonies. Jack Street, president of Germaine Monteil presented the awards.

A video-taped recording took the ceremony into the home of Elizabeth Cantarow, a volunteer with the League of Women Voters for 11 years, who was visited by Street and a host of volunteers earlier that afternoon. Cantarow has been housebound for more than 10 years with a disabling back problem. "She's a very cheerful person," said Street. "She really is making good use of a life that could otherwise be wasted."

The conviction that they were enhancing their own lives by aiding others was the common denominator among the 11 honorees.

The Volunteer Activist Awards ceremony was intiated eight years ago by the Germaine Monteil firm. It is now held in 35 U.S. cities, and a national awards ceremony is co-sponsored by the cosmetic firm and the national volunteer agency. Washington's 1978 winners are now eligible for the 1979 national awards.

Elizabeth Cantarow

"I've arrived at that time of life where I'll talk about religion and weight but not age," quipped Elizabeth Cantarow. A topic Cantarow embraces enthusiastically is the League of Women Voters.

"I love the league," she said. "Getting this recognition is like gilding the orchid."

In the past 11 years, Cantarow has been an avid league worker. She interviews new members by telephone, sponsors seminars in her home and is a lively supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Although bedridden for more than a decade with a degenerative spine disease, Cantarow said that her telephone is a "spinal cord that sends out the important messages to different parts of the body."

A native Philadelphian, she came to Washington 11 years ago. Cantarow has a bachelor of arts, bachelor of science and masters' degrees in psychology and education from the University of Pennsylvania. She has enjoyed a lucrative career as a child psychologist in Philadelphia's juvenile court system, and as a tutor to children with the learning problem dsylexia. She also worked briefly as a marriage counselor.

Her hobbies are reading, seeing friends and impressionist art. Cantarow's husband, Abraham, is a cancer researcher at the National Institutes of Health, and her daughter, Ellen Cantarow Kamps, is a freelance journalist in Cambridge, Mass.

Evelyn Stefansson Nef

Evenlyn Stefansson Nef has been an Artic explorer, author, photographer, lecturer at Dartmouth College, nightclub singer and puppeteer, but when she turned 60 four years ago, she decided to begin a new career.

Although she never attended college, Nef decided to become a psychotherapist.

While at a dinner party one night several years ago when she was still a student at New York's Institute of Psychotherapy, Nef was seated next to a Washington Hospital Center physician who told her he was treating patients with psoriasis, a skin disease.

"Who's investigating the psychosomatic aspects?" Nef asked. He said that no one was, so Nef volunteered. Her offer led to a grant and a pioneering study of the relationship between the mental state of psoriasis patients and how quickly the physical symptoms of the disease diminish.

"About 60 percent of skin diseases have a psychosomatic aspects," Nef said last week in a telephone interview. "Patients are initially very depressed, and by having someone listen, their depression usually lightens and you see the whole body change."

Nef said she divides her time between her psoriasis research at Washington Hospital Center and her private practice.

"My present career is in a way the most interesting," she said. "I really had to invent a job; nobody would hire me at this age."