William C. O'Donovan, publisher of the 250-year-old Virginia Gazette of Williamsburg, is the new president of the Virginia Press Association.

O'Donovan was elected Saturday during the VPA's 104th annual meeting at Virginia Beach.

He told the organization of newspaper executives that the outgoing president, Thomas T. Byrd of The Winchester Star, left him a progressive program, and that he plans to build on the momentum started by Byrd.

"We remain an association of new ideas and old ideals," O'Donovan said.

Horton P. Bierne, publisher of the Covington Virginian, was chosen president-elect. Other officers are Randall E. Brannon, general manager of the Loudoun Times-Mirror, vice president; T. George Washington, publisher of The News and Daily Advance in Lynchburg, secretary, and Robbie Tate, advertising director for the Coalfield Progress in Norton, treasurer. TRADE

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has hired a retired aerospace engineer to be its Maryland coordinator. Charles T. Miller will identify opportunities in the state for members who wish to volunteer their services.

The National Association of Tobacco Distributors has elected Jay Martin, chairman of the board of the Capital Cigar & Tobacco Co. Inc. of Cheverly, as its treasurer and chairman of the audit and finance committee.

The American Gear Manufacturers Association has selected Barney Berlinger Jr., president of Quaker City Gear Works Inc. in Huntingdon Valley, Penn., as its president. Berlinger has been a member of the board for four years and also has worked as treasurer and senior vice president of the trade group. PROFESSIONAL

The Travel Industry Association of America has appointed Susan Elms as vice president of marketing programs. She will be in charge of a national conference, work as a liaison to the USA Marketing Council and supervisor for the national domestic travel marketing plan.

The Greater Washington Society of Association Executives has hired an education director, an advertising assistant, a publications assistant and a word-processing assistant. According to John Kelly, a spokesman for the group, the appointments were made in response to the influx of almost 200 members over the past year and the installation of an electronic mail system.