MAXIMILIAN WALLACH, who died Tuesday, was one of those people who spend their lives making government work the way it should. For years, he was a more or less anonymous worker in the insurance department of the District of Columbia, content to go quietly about his job of regulating insurance companies, unrecognized except by those who work in that highly technical field. If it had not been for one incident, Mr. Wallach would have public, which reaped the benefits of his considerable skills.

That one incident was the near-collapse in 1976 of GEICO, one of the largest automobile insurance companies in the country. Instead of taking the safe course and presiding over the liquidation GEICO, Mr. Wallach chose to put his career and his carefully built reputation on the line. He thought the company, the jobs of the 6,000 people it employed, and the 2.8 million policies it had written could be saved. By working for months with GEICO's management, other insurance companies and insurance regulators across the country, Mr. Wallach brought together the financial package that kept GEICO in business. Those who know the insurance field best believe his boldness was largely responsible for avoiding a general collapse of the credibility of the entire fire and accident insurance business.

When the crisis was over, Mr. Wallach said, "I could have done without it." He had gotten the kind of publicity that other insurance regulators have parlayed into political office or high-paying jobs in industry, but neither course was for him. "I'm a regulator, I've always been a regulator, and I'll always be a regulator," he explained. "I'm not running from office or for office." With that, he went back to his quiet routine of handling rate-increase requests, applications for licenses from insurance companies, and audits of those companies that operate here. That was a job he did well, and the District of Columbia was fortunate that he chose to spend his career in its civil service.