Metro, as residents of Greater Washington know well, was not built in a day. We're looking instead at a good 40 years from dream to 101-mile rail network -- and then only if all goes well and the money keeps coming. But had it not been for Jackson Graham -- master builder of the underground and tireless, no-nonsense crusader for one of the world's largest public works projects -- the capital of the free world today might be no more than the home of the world's largest, man-made urban caverns. Maj. Gen. Graham, who died Saturday in Palm Springs, Calif., at the age of 69, topped a distinguished military career by beating the financial, political and engineering odds and delivering a working subway. Ask anyone involved: Gen. Graham did it his way -- and got it done.

When he came to the job from the Corps of Engineers, Metro's rail system was under heavy fire: 1)in Congress, where worshippers of the federal highway program saw a threat in any financial blessing of a subway; 2)from downtown and around the region, where other road-oriented planners and automobile lobbies saw it the same way; and 3)among many residents and merchants who saw little more than disruption in their futures. But Gen. Graham, a man of gracious arrogance, didn't let the flak stop him.

Every working day and most weekends, Metro's general manager would make the rounds, from Capitol Hill to the local governments and then down into the new holes in the ground where the tracks were to be laid. He started the cars rolling on a tiny route downtown -- not as a serious transit system but as a politically smart maneuver to get people riding, even for fun, so that they would speak out for more. They did, and by the time Gen. Graham left Metro in 1976, 45 miles of the subway system was under construction, five stations had been completed and the first trains were making test runs.

All of this was done without scandal of any kind, engineering, political or financial. And on the side, the general manager had to preside over the public takeover of a vast and varied set of regional bus systems.

While permanent, living tributes to other public figures may take time to design and erect, Greater Washington's tribute to Jackson Graham -- and vice versa -- is already on track.