To the Washington area public, Metro never will be the same. Cody Pfanstiehl, the man who gives a face and a voice to the otherwise monolithic regional transit authority, is retiring.

In a memorandum to Metro's general manager that began, "Subject: An End . . . And a Beginning," the transit system's 66-year-old director of public affairs asked "to be relieved of my duties as of close of business -- the public's business -- Sept. 10 . . . " His retirement was announced last night.

Pfanstiehl (pronounce that fan-steel) is a longtime Washington PR pro, having worked for -- among others -- CBS, WTOP radio-TV and the old Evening Star before joining Metro's forerunner, the National Capital Transportation Agency, in 1961.

In his Metro job, Pfanstiehl has guided countless foreign and domestic tourists through the subway digs, given perhaps three trillion talks to community groups on Metro plans, enchanted hard-nosed reporters like this one even when they found Pfanstiehl lacking on the hard details they sought, and managed to sound upbeat on the radio in the face of debacles like the utter breakdown of the bus system after the Bicentennial fireworks display in 1976.

Pfanstiehl, whose wife of 38 years died in 1981, lives in Takoma Park. He said he plans to pioneer "the new art of audio description to enable blind and near-blind to enjoy live theater and television." No successor at Metro has been named.

A Metro associate said he has asked for a "low key" farewell observance. Heck, no, folks: Anyone who can make Metro seem like a human outfit deserves a big blow out.