BACK IN THE YEARS when Congress didn't even pretend that the District of Columbia enjoyed any self-government, it was the job of three presidentially appointed commissioners to do more or less the bidding of the federal government when it came to municipal affairs here. Only now and then did a commissioner speak out forcefully for local self-determination, and one such was Renah F. Camalier, who died June 14 at the age of 86. Like his good friend and colleague on the board of commissioners, F. Joseph (Jiggs) Donohue, who died April 4, Mr. Camalier spoke strongly and often - downtown as well as on Capitol Hill - about the rights denied District residents. At the same time, he believed that the city government that did exist could and should be more responsive to citizen needs.

These commitments of his were about all that Mr. Camalier could rely on when President Truman named him to be a commissioner in 1952 - for there was no telling whether the job would last a month or three years. The White House Budget Bureau was considering a plan that would replace the commissioners with a city manager and city council; but that didn't happen, and Mr. Camalier stayed on for a full three-year term despite pressure on him to step down after a Republican landslide later in 1952 had swept Dwight D. Eisenhower into office. Active in local Democratic Party affairs, Mr. Camalier believed that one of the commissioners should be a Democrat and another a Republican (the third, the engineer-commissioner, was an Army officer).

There was never any question, however, about the solid local credentials that Mr. Camalier brought to the job. A native Washingtonian, he had a unique knowledge of both the federal and community flavor of his town - based on work ranging from a clerical job in the D.C. Water Department to service as secretary to then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, as secretary to Sen. Alva B. Adams (D-Colo.), as assistant U.S. attorney, as counsel to the Senate District Committee and as a private attorney.

As commissioner, Mr. Camalier worked hard for improved welfare payments, for better services at D.C. General Hospital and other health facilities, and for an equitable federal payment to the city based on what the U.S. government would pay in property taxes. And he continued to urge home rule and congressional representation for the city's residents. It was this unflagging devotion and service to the city - at a time when it meant a great deal - that the people of this community will remember, for Renah Camalier brought to local government service leadership that helped pave the way for important gains in the drive toward greater self-government and full participation in the affairs of the nation.