A year ago, Blair Lee III was riding high, savoring the attention and trappings of his new job as acting governor of Maryland, freely expousing his unconventional political views and busily preparing for his first legislative session.

Today, three weeks after his surprise defeat in the Democratic primary for governor, Lee's mood has changed drastically.Instead of his usual self-confidence and jocular manner, his associates find him sedate and given to occasional bouts of melancholy.

"He's gone through an extreme disappointment," said Lee's press secretary, Thom L. Burden, "Losing the election is an item that takes times getting used to. He's still going through a period of adjustment."

Since the September 12 primary, Lee has spent about a third of his work days relaxing on the state yacht or in the garden of his Silver Spring home. At least one cabinet secretary has complained of difficulty in reaching him for a decision.

He has steadfastly avoided the press, refusing to grant interviews and canceling his last three news conferences. He also has declined to attend the upcoming annual convention of the state Chamber of Commerce, an affair regularly attended by governors. He has spent long hours meeting with old friends to reminisce about his 30 years in state government. Last week, he entertained his personal staff on the state yacht and has promised some aides he would appoint them to secure state jobs.

After completing an unusually brief Board of Public Works meeting yesterday and encountering a handful of State House reporters who were waiting for a chance to ask him questions, Lee reluctantly consented to grant a group interview.

While acknowledging the "disappointment" of not being able to complete some programs, he said he "fully recovered" from his political defeat two days after the primary and felt relieved to have the burden of governing lifted.

"It's a luxurious feeling," he said. "I keep stumbling across problems I won't have to wrestle with."

Asked if he still had his heart in his job as lame-duck acting governor, he said, "It's not so much my heart as my sense of responsibility. It's my job and I'm going to do it. There's certainly no letup in the work volume around here."

Just three weeks after his loss, he said, he has already obtained the status of an elder statesman. "They're already getting sentimental treating me as this old gentleman." he said of his associates. "I'll become insufferable in another couple of days."

Saying he was a "very strong anti-post mortem guy," the acting governor refused to discuss his primary loss or the $245,000 he lent his unsuccessful campaign. "That's a painful experience . . . in that I'm going to be stuck with a loss of funds," he said of the loans.

Lee, 62, said has has not yet made plans for what he will do after leaving office in January, although he added, "I can't see myself retiring. I'd get itchy after awhile." He said his political career is over but he would have "no objection" to an appointed position.

For the next three months, he said, he will attend to the state budget and help find state jobs for aides who now work in unclassified positions. "There's an awful traffic of people wanting me to get jobs for them," Lee added.

Lee's unexpected defeat shocked the upper echelons of state government and the State House. Cabinet officers and staff aides who serve at the pleasure of the governor suddenly found their jobs in jeopardy.

Demoralized by the primary results, many cabinet members and Lee staff officers have started scrambling for jobs, while state employes in secure classified positions openly wager in state office building cafeterias whose boss will go first.

"Usually I go to Joe Banks (a clothier) every September to buy my year's supply of suits," said personnel secretary Henry Boss. "I haven't gone this year because I'm waiting to find out my future. If I don't make it, I'm going to buy sports clothes."

Among members of Lee's personal staff, some of whom worked for him when he was Lieutenant governor, Ed Cole, a special assistant to Lee, was the first to go. He took an appointed job as assistant secretary of Maryland's Racing Commission.

The second floor of governor's offices at the State House, where aides and political operatives scurried around madly just a few weeks ago, has a tombike presence today.

"Everyday has definitely showed down," one of Lee's secretaries observed. "Why bother when you don't know if you'll be here in January to follow through. Nobody really cares anymore."