THE FORMATIVE years of Washington's suburbs -- from their birth as bedroom communities for the center-city workers to their emergence as bustling domains with lives of their own -- were times of extraordinary civic activity. More than anywhere then, Montgomery County produced the pioneer ranks of volunteers and office-seekers who immersed themselves in arcane exercises of policymaking. In the forefront, early on and for decades after that, was Idamae Garrott, who died last Sunday at the age of 82. From grass roots to public office and back, Ms. Garrott reveled in the homework of civic duty, fiercely protecting neighborhoods against the consequences of rapid development.

Ms. Garrott -- who came to be known affectionately on a first-name-only basis -- began in the 1950s in the League of Women Voters, which she helped to found in Montgomery. She became an expert on taxes, then on zoning, housing, planning, transportation, education, civil rights -- any subject that touched the lives and governance of the county's residents. She turned from civic campaigns to political campaigns, winning a seat on the county council that she held for eight years, then lost a primary bid for a seat in the U.S. House and then won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates and in 1986, a seat in the state senate.

Ms. Garrott's steadfast defense of elaborate process would rile many opponents and amuse others but she won and lost by the book. Her one-step-at-a-time style of public service never succumbed to the time pressures that now demand more expeditious decision-making. But those who have sought public office in Montgomery -- and who have found it clean, orderly and responsive -- can thank Idamae for her contributions to these high standards.