THE FIRST THING to be said about Clare Boothe Luce, who died on Friday, is that you would not have dreamed of saying of her that she was "84 years young" or indulging in any of those other affectionate little condescensions people reserve for the old, remarking, for instance, with a marveling smile about how incredibly energetic she was, or things like that. It's not that you would have forborne to say these things because she wouldn't have liked them. It's that you never would even have thought them. Until illness finally got her, Clare Luce remained a woman of unconditional elegance and interest. At 84 she still tended to be, as she must have been half a century before, the most attractive person in the room.

Much has been written and more will be about her amazing life. She hardly left a single precedent or taboo or barrier standing that got in her way as an ambitious, insatiably curious woman. In an age in which credentials sometimes seem to be all and -- worse -- to be the kind of thing that is dispensed as a diploma, license or badge from some boring bureaucracy, Mrs. Luce manufactured, by her very style of living and her drive, her own credentials. A bona fide intellectual, she gave herself a lifelong college education, not having had the real four-year kind as a young woman. She raised early feminist hell. To the end she said things others wouldn't dare to -- cleverly, wickedly -- and seemed only to enjoy the resulting fracas. She had good fortune, but also much sorrow and setback; yet you never got the idea that either had cowed the woman or made her self-protecting. Clare Luce, to put it mildly, was not an "off the record" type of person; unlike so many of her fellow Washingtonians she was neither fearful nor ashamed of what she meant to say.

She was also distinctive in the way she combined her profound conservatism with absolute joy in the exploration of everything new and daft and different on the American scene. She complained bitterly of being unable to get Dr. Who on her Watergate apartment television late at night. She was a connoisseur of all the latest twists and turns in the popular culture. She had an affinity for younger friends, who never thought of her as older. Her compendious reading never stopped. Let us not pretend that Mrs. Luce's politics were ours or that we think her record is perfect or that she was some kind of angel. We had some Class A differences and battles with her in our time. They were as highly charged, engrossing and memorable as everything else about her.