FOR THE 34 YEARS that Democratic governors ruled Maryland without Republican interruption, being a Grand Old Party member in Annapolis was a fairly lonely business. But state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, who died last Saturday at 78, never flagged in his efforts to build the party and earn it respect in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats. Much of the Republican doctrine didn't fly in this atmosphere, but Mr. Kittleman's gentle perseverance and ability to work with all legislators gave the GOP a serious seat at the legislative table and made his party a contributor to the lawmaking process.

As much of a party stalwart as he was, Mr. Kittleman had an independent streak when it came to upholding his principles. On economic issues, he stood with most of his colleagues, but he saw no reason to hammer away on some of the divisive issues that could aggravate tensions in the tiny-enough GOP caucus in the House of Delegates, where in 1982 he became the first Howard County Republican in more than 60 years to win a seat.

His fervent -- and at the time politically courageous -- belief in racial integration in Howard and everywhere else never ebbed. Early on, Mr. Kittleman worked hard on the successful campaigns of two other Maryland Republicans -- Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. and Rep. Gilbert Gude -- and became the first white member and then president of the county branch of the NAACP. Throughout his career, he explored ways for state Republicans to reach out to minorities.

As an engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corp. for 26 years and a cattle farmer on his 106-acre property in West Friendship, Mr. Kittleman chose a quiet, no-frills role as he rose to become House minority leader and later, in the state Senate, a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. In the lobbyist-infested Annapolis atmosphere, Mr. Kittleman was known for paying his way and serving on committees that finally forged stricter ethics laws. While colleagues in both parties sought to use the state's legislative scholarship program as patronage, Mr. Kittleman let the Maryland Higher Education Committee select students in his district from its list of applicants for need-based aid.

It was this keen sense of propriety and evenhandedness, along with a wonderfully old-fashioned belief in consensus-building and reasonable compromise, that made Bob Kittleman a significant and beloved player in the leadership of Maryland.