Even before Hamilton Jordan spoke, the dozen members of the White House senior staff whom he had suddenly summoned to his office knew what was coming.

It was about the man who was standing somberly next to Jordan, a fellow Georgian who also had worked loyally for Jimmy Carter since way back when.

"We all felt very close to Andy," the recently anointed chief of the White House staff began, "and now Andy wants to talk to his friends."

And with that, Andrew Young -- first Jimmy Carter's emissary to black America and, later, America's emissary to the Third World -- launched quietly but firmly into what in effect would be a sort of dress rehearsal for the remarks he would be making before television cameras in a couple of hours.

He told them that he felt he had been, too often, a source of controversy and embarrassment for the president -- and that he wants to see Jimmy Carter reelected -- and so he had decided to resign.

Andy Young had kind words for his colleagues in the room, and they had kind words for him, and there were embraces and even tears. It was a decent and human way to consecrate a decision that some of those in the room had come to the night before -- that this latest controversy could end only with the departure of Young as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

It was a decision that Young had come to see for himself -- after consultations between the president and his top advisers, and then between some of the top advisers and Young. The resignation of Andrew Young, a well-meaning man who had deliberately misled the State Department about an unauthorized meeting he had with a Palestine Liberation Organization official, was executed with a sort of careful choreography and finesse. So, according to one senior White House official it never actually came down to a question of whether Jimmy Carter would have to go through the painful exercise of demanding the resignation of his friend and loyal supporter.

Nor did it ever really come down to a question of whether Young could have one more chance if he promised to mend his ways and cease to be a flintstone of controversy -- although Young, in his remarks at the news conference where he announced his resignation, plainly implied that he had this opportunity.

(In fact, Young had been given his "one more chance" months ago, when he was rebuked by his boss, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, after he had said, during the furor over Soviet dissident Anatoly Scharansky, that America also had 'political prisoners.")

So it was that the resignation of Andrew Young was played out yesterday as being very much Young's decision, even though it was also the feeling of a number of others close to the president (and apparently the president, as well) that Young's resignation was for the best.

First Young met for an hour and a half with the president in the second-floor family quarters of the White House and handed him the letter of resignation he had written the night before; then he met, at his request, with the president's senior staff.

There was never a suggestion, in interviews with senior Carter aides yesterday, that either the president or any of his advisers ever tried to talk Young out of resigning. In fact, although Young was not aware of it, the president was writing in longhand his letter accepting Young's resignation "with deep regret" even as Young was down in Hamilton Jordan's office telling his colleagues of what he presented as his decision.

Ten months ago, Carter had won cheers at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner when he said that Young would be the U.N. ambassador "as long as I am president and he wants to stay there."

Young's departure from Carter's Cabinet was carried out carefully, within the narrow loopholes of that scripture.

One afternoon in June 1977, a rather chagrined Young was escorted into the Oval Office and, finding it empty, he continued on into the small study that opens off the larger ceremonial chamber.

In just five months on the job, Young had become a controversial figure for his off-the-cuff comments about how Cuban troops were a "stabilizing" force in Angola, and how the British, the Russians, the Swedes and the people of the New York City borrough of Queen were racists. And now he was summoned by the president after telling Playboy magazine that Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford "were, in fact, racists."

Jimmy Carter greeted Young with warmth and understanding.

"What's happening to you is sort of like what happened to me during the campaign," Carter said, according to an interview with Young later that day. "They're analyzing every word. If you ever need help -- call."

They were one, in those days, Jimmy Carter and Andy Young, because each knew what it was like to have created problems for the other with a slip of the tongue.

Young had caused Carter problems that year with his comments on racism involving foreign allies and domestic political enemies. Carter had caused Young great problems the year before, with his campaign comment about "ethnic purity" -- the desirability of ethnically pure neighborhoods.

Young faced up to a lot of heat from other blacks back in 1976, when he came quickly to the defense of this white, southern politician.

"I did for him then, back in the ethnic purity crisis, what he did for me today," Young, one time lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr., confided after he left the White House, a much relieved man, that day in 1977.

But Young continued with his propensity for turning quips into quicksand. It got so that even when he was being praised while receiving an honorary degree at Williams College, the speaker could not help but to note: "You have been called Motormouth, but we agree with the scriptures: 'Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth overfloweth.' -- Matthew."

In the State Department -- where there is much consternation over the fact that Young chose not to tell the full truth to a department official concerning his meeting with the PLO aide -- there is also a substantial admiration for the unique contribution Young made to American international relations. Consternation and admiration -- Young is viewed with both by the professional diplomats of the State Department. And, some now say, the same qualities that provoked Young's controversies also led him to be an unqualified success in improving America's image among the developing nations of the Third World.

"Andy Young has been a tremendous asset in establishing America's present relations with the Third World," said one State Department expert on Africa, who traveled with Young on that continent.

They still talk in the State Department of that conference on apartheid in the fall of 1977, when the United States figured to be viewed as the enemy by the countries of black Africa because of the heavy U.S. investment in South Africa.

One by one, Young met with the leaders of the black nations, winning their confidence in lengthy discussions. And when it was over, Nigeria's once anti-American leader, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, honored Young by inviting him into the northlands of his country for a festival of nomadic tribes.

In negotiations on Rhodesia and southern Africa, America's improved standing with black Africa is credited largely to Young's efforts.

"Andy Young's success in the Third World . . . was partly -- but only partly -- because of race," said one State Department official. "The more important factor was his ability to communicate. He felt he could cut through to the heart of any issue by brushing aside formalities and protocol and saying, 'Let's just sit down and talk about this.'" This is how he conducted himself in his greatest achievements, in the Third World, and it is how he conducted himself in that session that led to his downfall.

Perhaps only one other official in Washington shared his penchant for brushing aside protocol to do diplomatic negotiations in unconventional ways -- and that was Jimmy Carter, who did just that with his Camp David talks and Mideast shuttle success.

So, over at the State Department, many of the experts felt Andrew Young was too vital to the Third World, and too much like Carter, for the president to have him, or permit him to, leave.

"I just don't think Andy Young is going," the official said.

But as he was speaking, Young was heading out of Hamilton Jordan's office, out the south gates of the White House and over to the State Department, to announce that he had, in fact, left.

"In all my life," Yound would say in his news conference a few minutes later, "I've only been able to deal with people who distrust one another by being brutally frank -- and by being willing to be vulnerable because of that frankness."