Rarely does a public servant, during his lifetime, get to enjoy the honor that Francis C. (Frank) Turner received yesterday.

Turner, an Arlington resident and a 43-year veteran of the old Bureau of Public Roads and the successor Federal Highway Administration, ended up as the FHwA administrator from 1969 to 1972. He watched and listened as present-day officials dedicated a new $8 million highway research building at Langley in Fairfax County as the Francis C. Turner Building.

And the entire 44-acre facility on which the building is located was renamed the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center. The other half of the hyphenated name memorializes the late Herbert S. Fairbank, who headed the old roads' bureau research program in 1944-45.

On the dais yesterday, speaking still with the twang of his native Texas, Turner observed that "after all that you've heard from previous VIP speakers , you'd expect to see somebody up here 20 feet tall, but I'm only 5 feet 6."

At age 74, wearing a new chocolate brown suit, he remained wiry, obviously enjoying good health and looking no older than a dozen years ago when I wrote about his secondary role as a member of the National Capital Planning Commission. In that era he pushed for (and failed to achieve) a full regional freeway system and criticized--but, to his credit, did not try to destructively block--plans for our Metro system.

Yesterday's dedication was a sort of in-gathering of the highwaymen of his era, too many to list here, except for two of special local interest: Douglas B. Fugate, the strong man Virginia highway chief, and Thomas F. Airis, his counterpart in the D.C. Highway Department.

Frank Turner, by anybody's standards, is the kind of person who gives bureaucrats a good name. CAPTION: Picture, FRANCIS C. TURNER . . . honored with an $8 million building