Before J. Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice, opened their nine-stool shop, you couldn't buy an A&W root beer in Washington.

Before he put chili, tamales and barbecue beef on the menu and renamed his joint The Hot Shoppe, no one had ever tried selling Tex-Mex food this far north of the Rio Grande.

Before he hired his first carhops, there were no drive-in restaurants in the Northeast. Before he began selling box lunches to Eastern Air Transport, there was no food served on most airline flights.

Before he opened the Twin Bridges Marriott Hotel, drive-in dining and drive-in lodging had been two different businesses.

When J. W. Marriott came to Washington in 1927, the Marriott name identified only a little settlement in Utah, where his grandfather, John, had settled down to raise a family.

When he died Tuesday night at 84 of an apparent heart attack while at his summer home in New Hampshire, there were 143 Marriott hotels and more than 1,400 Marriott fast-food restaurants. Almost 140,000 people found the Marriott name on their paychecks, and copies of J. W. Marriott's biography are tucked into the nightstands of 62,000 Marriott hotel rooms.

In a lifetime, the son of a struggling sheep rancher built one of America's great family fortunes, a $4 billion-a-year business that symbolizes its founder's Mormon values of hard work, clean living and deeply held religious beliefs. "I think there would not have been the Hot Shoppes had it not been for the Mormon church," he said in 1974. "We're taught good habits and we try to instill these ideals in our employes."

J. W. Marriott first visited Washington as a Mormon missionary, at a time when that faith had so few followers in the area that they met in each other's homes. His last rites will be held Saturday in the complex adjacent to the Kensington temple that he helped to build as a symbol of Mormon faith.

Instrumental in the construction and financing of the Kensington temple, he faithfully followed the church's mandate to tithe, often giving far more than one-tenth of his annual income to Mormon causes. He funded the 22,000-seat J. W. Marriott Arena at Brigham Young University, the University of Utah library also bears his name, but much of his philanthropy was performed in private. "I suspect no one really knows the extent of his giving," said one local Mormon leader.

Presidents offered their praise for the longtime Republican who was an important supporter of the political aspirations of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George Romney, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Said former President Nixon, "Bill Marriott was one of my closest friends and advisers for 35 years, and as chairman and official host of my inaugurals in 1968 and 1972, he observed the high standards which have become the trademark of the inns which bears his name."

"J. W. Marriott was a living example of the American dream," President Reagan said in a statement issued in Santa Barbara and echoed in Washington.

"One would have to call it an American dream to rise from a soda jerk to a mogul of the hotel and food service industry," said John Hechinger, president of Hechinger Co., who called Marriott's death "a very great loss for the Washington area."

"We knew him from the very beginning," he added, recalling that his father, Sidney, had rented the property next to his lumber yard to Bill and Alice Marriott so they could open their second root beer stand.

"They were certainly typical of what we now call the mom and pop store. They both worked like mad," said Hechinger. Marriott himself said, "No person in this life can get very far on a 40-hour week."

Former Michigan governor and Cabinet member George Romney recalled that Alice Marriott was a "sorority girl from Salt Lake" who was unprepared to work behind a counter for a living. "He told her you can just put that sorority pin away because that's what you're going to do," said Romney, whose quest for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 was first financed by Marriott. When the Romney drive faltered, Marriott threw his influence and more than $100,000 in cash behind Richard Nixon.

Romney said Marriott was "one of the most remarkable men of our period because he led such a complete and balanced life. He was not just successful in business, he was also successful in his family relationships and in his spiritual activities. He walked with the mightiest, but he also walked with the lowliest." Today, Marriott Corp. is one of the biggest employers of newly arrived immigrants, local religious activists say, and has given thousands of teen-agers their first jobs.

"Bill and Alice" went on to build what has always remained a family business, even when sales of Marriott Corp. soared into the billions and big banks and other investors became the principal stockholders.

Starting his children out in summer jobs waiting on customers, Marriott groomed his sons to succeed him.

In 1964, "the chairman," as he has always been called inside Marriott Corp., gave the title of president to his eldest offspring, J. W. Marriott Jr., known as Bill. Gradually relinquishing his prerogatives, J. W. turned more and more work over to Bill and, in 1972, officially designated him as chief executive. Younger brother Richard is executive vice president of Marriott Corp. and runs the restaurant division, itself a $770 million business last year.

The first Marriott restaurant had been financed by $1,000 worth of wedding gifts and a $1,500 loan, but by the mid-1950s, Marriott had become a multimillion-dollar chain. When Hot Shoppes first sold shares to the public, the family held on to two-thirds of the stock, an investment then worth about $4.8 million.

The family holdings now amount to about 22 percent of Marriott stock, and those shares alone are now worth more than $500 million, based on current stock prices. Marriott's projected $4 billion in sales this year will make the company a close contender with Martin Marrietta Corp. for the title of Washington's biggest business.

It is the new business ventures begun by his sons that have made Marriott Corp. a darling of Wall Street, but their father has never strayed far away from the corporate headquarters in Bethesda. Retaining the title chairman of the board, J. W. Marriott presided over every annual meeting of company shareholders. He drew a standing ovation at last April's meeting at the new J. W. Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Marriott had won the highest accolades of his profession. He served as president of the National Restaurant Association and in 1982 was honored as an official "Pioneer" at the Multi-Unit Food Service Operators convention, a designation he shared with the inventor of the McDonald's hamburger.

"He was idolized," said Peter Romeo, an editor of Nation's Restaurant News, which gave the award. He said Marriott was a pioneer not only in curb service and fast food, but also was the father of Tex-Mex restaurants and one of the first to move into in-flight and in-plant feeding.