The secretary was crying. Both she and her boss were only hours away from losing their jobs.

After four years of typing official letters for Gov. John N. Dalton, in a plush office just below Thomas Jefferson's Capitol Dome, she and most of Dalton's staff were at their jobs for the last day.

Dalton, the millionaire farmer and lawyer from the town of Radford, began the morning of his last full day in office as he has for the past four years, reading a newspaper in bed at the adjacent Governor's Mansion with a cup of coffee. He arrived at his Capitol office at 8:30 a.m. and immediately began answering telephone calls and accepting congratulations for his stewardship of the state from Republican allies.

In the afternoon, he officiated at the hanging of his oil portrait alongside those of his predecessors outside the governor's office. "It's been just like a regular day," said Dalton with characteristic understatement. "I just hope when people come up here and see this painting they will look back on these years and say we did a good job."

Republican Del. Vincent F. Callahan of Fairfax brought Dalton the legislative news of the day -- the General Assembly had voted to allow Dalton to take his leather chair bearing the state seal with him when he leaves office.

Dalton, who is unable to succeed himself under Virginia law, leaves office tomorrow proud of the job he did. He came into office on the promise that he would cut back the state's bureaucracy and keep hold of its purse strings. And today his friends and foes agreed that he has kept both those promises.

"Dalton was the first modern chief executive whose primary commitment was to actually manage the state like a business, to pull the levers," said Sen. Ray Garland (R-Roanoke), the Senate's most flamboyant orator and a frequent speech writer for Dalton. "I don't think he's been given near the credit for that role that he deserves."

Democrats, who control both houses of the state legislature, were not as effusive in their compliments. Del. Jim Almand of Arlington called Dalton a traditional Virginia governor who "didn't accomplish anything momentous, nor did he leave the Commonwealth in a shambles."

Dalton, who didn't hesitate to challenge the Democratic legislature, has been a state official since 1965 when he was elected to the House of Delegates from an area that was the stronghold of an emerging Republican Party.

Some GOP leaders would like to see him remain in the public eye, as the party's nominee for the Senate seat Harry F. Byrd Jr. will vacate next year. Dalton has spurned those offers, saying he would prefer to practice law here in Richmond. He hasn't ruled out seeking another term as governor in 1985, a feat that would make him only the second man in history to be twice elected Virginia's chief executive.

John Wessells, another Dalton speechwriter who worked for Mills E. Godwin, the two-time governor, and others, attempted today to fix Dalton's place among the men he had served: "Gov. Albertis Harrison was a southern Virginia aristocrat. Mills Godwin was one of the better orators of the time. And Gov. Dalton was the chairman of the board," said Wessells, who will remain in the office when Charles S. Robb takes over at noon Saturday.

Yesterday, Wessells and another aide stood outside Dalton's office to see the unveiling of his portrait. A few hours later they gathered again, this time by an elevator at the end of the hall, to say goodbye to the governor and his wife Edwina.

Dalton shook hands or hugged each of the 20 or so staff members, most of whom were either teary-eyed or crying. He then turned toward the waiting elevator followed by loud applause. But he stopped and walked a few steps back to look at his portrait on the wall.

"I just want to see how it looks from this side," Dalton said.