HIS GENTLE demeanor and patrician courtesy made the words "the gentleman from New Jersey" something more than a pro forma senatorial title for Clifford Case, who died here Friday at the age of 77. Sen. Case was revered by his colleagues for more than his civility, however. As notable was the courage with which he championed his convictions and the integrity that characterized his service in the Senate. Whether the topic was ethics in government, the war in Vietnam or racial justice, Clifford Case was willing to speak out and to lead.

Sen. Case was one of the small but influential group of liberal Republicans who contributed so much to the better social legislation of the 1960s. As an advocate of strong civil rights laws, he was one of the bipartisan floor managers of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, he actively promoted full funding for those programs--in particular those relating to education--that were directed toward the poor and the victimized.

Sen. Case was first elected to the House in 1944, and served five terms there before moving to the Senate 10 years later. A brief period as president of the Fund for the Republic separated these periods of service. At a time when only one Republican senator had taken a similar position, he announced, during his first race for the Senate, that he strongly opposed the activities of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and pledged himself to vote against allowing the Wisconsin senator to continue as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations.

Once elected, Mr. Case continued to press for measures that would establish clear ethical standards for members of Congress and to publish annually and voluntarily a complete statement detailing his own finances. Today's requirement that legislators and high government officials file statements disclosing assets, liabilities and sources of income is due, in large measure, to his early and persistent advocacy.

As a member, and eventually ranking Republican, on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Case was an opponent of the war in Vietnam before it was fashionable to be one. He was an environmentalist when such folks were still called "conservationists." He was a man of principle and compassion who served his party, his state and his country with distinction.