Gerald M. Lowrie, director of government relations for the American Bankers Association, who was widely expected to succeed ABA Executive Director Willis Alexander, has accepted a job as senior vice president for public affairs with American Telephone & Telegraph Co., one of the company's chief lobbying positions.

Lowrie, who had been offered the banking association's top management position, dismayed most banking industry observers by accepting the AT&T job. Alexander announced late last year that he would resign his ABA post on Jan. 31.

Lowrie, 49, said "both opportunities came at identical times," but that he was "lured away" by AT&T, according to a report in American Banker, an industry publication. He said he would be more challenged in a policy-making post at "a company going through the transition it is going through with divestiture." Lowrie begins his new job Jan. 15.

"We can understand his decision to accept a job of the magnitude and challenge offered to him by AT&T," ABA President James G. Cairnes said in a statement.

Lowrie succeeds John G. Fox, who resigned Sept. 1 to join the Washington law firm of Reasoner, Davis & Fox.

Lowrie will manage AT&T's public affairs department, which works with the legislative and executive branches of government at the federal, state and local levels. Many of the company's important regulatory lobbying efforts, however, including contact with the Federal Communications Commission, are handled by a separate department headed by Senior Vice President James R. Billingsley. Lowrie will report to Robert E. Allen, executive vice president for corporate administration and finance.

As head of the ABA's government relations group, Lowrie has been involved in many of the banking industry's deregulation efforts. He helped draft the plan to repeal tax withholding on interest payments and lobbied for congressional approval of the Monetary Control Act of 1980 and for the rewrite of the bankruptcy laws. In addition, he served as chairman of the ABA's monetary planning committee and its banking professions group.

Before joining the ABA in 1968, Lowrie held sales and marketing positions with International Business Machines Corp. in Kansas City, Mo., and WhitePlains, N.Y.