HER DEPARTURE from the scene was hardly noticed by the world at large, but we couldn't help feeling a keen loss--sort of as if the Loch Ness monster had been dragged up from the deep and done in. Dorothy Woods, age 40, a.k.a. the "welfare queen," was sentenced last week to spend eight years in a California prison on 41 counts of having cheated the welfare authorities out of more than $377,000.

How, you may wonder, can we be sure that Mrs. Woods is, in fact, the welfare queen of legend, song and political anecdote? It is true that we reached our conclusion from the bare details of a recent wire service story. But that report tells enough to identify Mrs. Woods as the genuine article.

Mrs. Woods is no slum-dwelling, abandoned- mother type. She lived, as tradition would have it, in a wealthy section of Pasadena. Residing with her was her husband, John. He has been accused of conspiring with her to create and maintain a network of non-existent welfare cases that is believed by authorities-- and here's further proof of her claim to the title--to be the largest welfare fraud in the nation's history.

Mrs. Woods is reported to have driven a Rolls Royce. That may confuse some people who have reported sighting her at supermarkets (buying premium grade steak, packaged lobster Newburg and vodka with her food stamps, we guess) driving a Cadillac. Well, Mrs. Woods had a Cadillac too. Also a Mercedes-Benz.

We don't know any more details, but we like to imagine her hopping in and out of her Mercedes in front of the welfare office, dressed in natural ranch mink or perhaps a designer leather coat. We like to think that she kept track of all her many fake families on the latest model home computer so as not to get confused about the details.

The welfare world won't be the same without her. But perhaps there's a silver lining. Could it be possible, now that the welfare queen has been locked up, that we can have it all--low taxes, high defense spending and a balanced budget to boot?