The death of James R. Moss, 48, former Utah superintendent of public instruction, in an auto accident this week is not only a tragedy for his family but is a serious blow to education programs in the state.

Moss resigned as superintendent this past July to become executive director of the Utah Partnership for Education and Economic Development - a group drawing on business people and educators to help schools produce the kind of workers needed for Utah's future economic growth.Many exciting plans were on the drawing boards and the death of a hard-driving, capable leader like Moss is a setback to the whole program and creates a void that will be difficult to fill.

Moss was a remarkable achiever. He was an attorney, an educator, an executive and a legislator - rapidly rising to the top in all these varied fields. He was articulate and persuasive, winning high praise for his ability to build bridges between the state Office of Education and the Legislature.

He was a former professor at Brigham Young University and former associate director of general education at BYU. He served two terms in the Legislature and was unopposed for a third term when he was named state superintendent of public instruction.

Despite his superior abilities, or perhaps because of them, he was sometimes a controversial figure. Gov. Norm Bangerter said Moss was "generally well ahead in his knowledge and understanding of what needed to be done, always having a solid program to accomplish it." As one observer put it, Moss didn't always bring everybody else along as fast as he was moving - and that sometimes could lead to misunderstandings.

Yet there was never any doubt about his exceptional talent, his commitment to education and his sense of public service. Utah has suffered a grievous loss.