ONE OF THE GREAT MEASURES of Robert E. McLaughlin's service as president of the District of Columbia Board of Commissioners - back when that job was the closest thing to a "mayor" that the city was allowed to have - has to be the fact that the House District Committee considered censuring him for his constant crusade on behalf of home rule. Mr McLaughlin, who died Sunday at the age of 71, never did believe in kowtowing to the bigots who controlled the committee, and they resented his open, determined stand against racial discrimination. As it turned out, no action was ever taken against Mr. McLaughlin - and he did not let up in his commitment to racial justice in the nation's capital.

As a Republican appointee of President Eisenhower from 1955 to 1961, Mr. McLaughlin spoke forthrightly and with conviction of the prospects for better local government if the leaders were elected. He made it plain that he had no fear of whatever difference a predominately black electorate might make in the conduct of local affairs. If local progress meant annoying Congress by forming an official human-rights council in the District Building or by pushing for equal employment in the District government, the commissioner did not hesitate to act.

Mr. McLaughlin had vision, too, as evidenced in his early emphasis on the importance of regional cooperation, at a time when city and suburban officials barely knew each other. From a meeting he convened in 1957 was to come the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which today is considered one of the most effective regional organizations in the country. Commissioner McLaughlin also worked hard for a modern regional transportation system, helping to win a crucial endorsement from President Eisenhower for a regional rail rapid-transit system - locally and nationally - than the problems of municipal government." This Washingtonians could easily tell at the time. But what they may not have realized then was the lasting effect Robert McLaughlin's contribution would have on the political evolution and social progress of the city he loved.