The clock struck noon and Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews bellowed, "Let's go!"

And with that, Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder picked up his gavel and gave the lectern two quick raps.

"The Senate will come to order," Wilder intoned, his first official words since becoming the first black elected to statewide office in Virginia.

Wilder, who served 15 years as a state senator from Richmond, quickly ran through routine business, prompted by the whispers of Senate Clerk J.T. Shropshire, who had given him a lesson Sunday.

"Read communications from the executive," Shropshire prompted.

"The clerk will read communications from the executive," Wilder said into his microphone.

"The clerk has no communications from the executive," Shropshire responded.

These things are said every day, and Wilder tried to keep his special day routine.

"I think the people have accepted the fact that I might not be a total stranger," Wilder remarked when asked why the gallery was not overflowing for his first day on the job.

Still there were congratulatory words and even an admission of what many thought a year ago when Wilder was seen as a hopeless underdog.

"All of us are mighty proud," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Edward E. Willey of Richmond, who allowed that a year ago, "very frankly I didn't give very much encouragement . . . . I pretty well told him, 'Doug, you're making a critical mistake.' "

State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) welcomed Wilder to his new post from the "hearty little band in this corner" -- the Senate's eight Republicans. Mitchell drew laughs when he said he hoped Wilder would be "solicitous of the rights of the minority."

One person who was doing little laughing today was GOP Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County, who was defeated by Wilder for lieutenant governor in a race nearly everyone initially thought Chichester would win.

Chichester, arriving two minutes late for the session, burrowed his head into legislative briefing books throughout most of the opening speeches and during Wilder's opening address.

Wilder vowed to treat each senator respectfully, but signaled he would do more than preside over the Senate.

"I will not be involved in the daily machinations," Wilder said, but added that "I do not intend . . . merely to preside." Under the Virginia Constitution, Wilder's only official duties are to preside over the Senate and vote in the case of ties, but he is expected to play a more active role than his predecessor, Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis.

Wilder also went though the routine of welcoming special guests in the gallery and said he may from time to time interrupt the proceedings to explain to the gallery what the senators are doing. The system, he said can be confusing to outsiders. "We are not really making sausage, we are making law."