Last week, America buried a special son, Mac Baldrige.

Although he was well known and respected by Washington insiders and Wall Street business leaders, most Americans knew very little about Mac Baldrige until they heard the news last Saturday of his tragic death in a rodeo practice session.

That's because Mac was not a grandstander, although he lived the last seven years of his life in a town where grandstanding is as much an art, and just as competitively practiced, as steer roping or bull riding.

An anecdote from the middle years of the administration illustrates the point. Several years ago the World Professional Rodeo Champions held a special competition at the Capital Centre, with the president, the Cabinet and diplomats attending along with a host of Washington notables.

It was an event Mac had tried to get the president to attend on several occasions. He was entered in steer roping, and when he was introduced with fanfare, the lights on him, he threw his rope and lassoed empty air -- an unusual mistake for a man who earned his place in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

The audience good-naturedly roared its disappointment, and the officials waived the rules and offered the secretary another shot at the steer. To everyone's surprise, Mac tipped his hat and graciously stepped down from his horse.

At a barbecue on the White House lawn afterward, which Mac and the president hosted for the rodeo cowboys, I asked why he didn't try another throw of the rope. He replied matter-of-factly: "Cowboys only get one shot."

I used to kid him about being a cowboy. Whenever I saw him at the White House I asked how we were doing with the cowboy vote, and his answer was always the same -- "Just fine!" In 1984 I found out he was right. But the cowboy values he held dear were serious.

Mac's basic sense of fairness would not allow him to use his privileges as a Cabinet member to have the second shot an ordinary rodeo cowboy couldn't get. As easy as it is to get trapped by the surroundings and power of Washington, Mac Baldrige never succumbed. EDWARD J. ROLLINS Washington The writer, former White House political director, is chairman of Jack Kemp's presidential campaig