Woody West, a well-known figure in Washington journalism circles who worked for The Washington Star for 20 years before it folded in 1981, will step down as executive editor of The Washington Times July 1.

The announcement was made yesterday in a staff meeting by Times Editor in Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave, who at the same time was celebrating his first anniversary in the job.

"After two or three years of six- and seven-day weeks, I'm simply running out of gas and I don't want to have a cardiac," West, 51, said in a telephone interview.

He said he will "become an associate editor, quote unquote . . . I'll do some editorials for Insight [a magazine published by The Times on Fridays], some book reviews, and I'll be around a couple of days a week. But this, in effect, gives me some leisure . . . Now I'm going to sit on the porch and read, go out and scare a few geese in the winter."

West will be replaced as the line director of daily editorial operations by Wesley Pruden, who will retain his title as managing editor. The "executive editor" title, which has been the number two job, will be dropped.

"Woody West is one of the founders of the paper, and since we cannot persuade Woody to remain full-time as executive editor, we feel it only fitting that we retire the title," de Borchgrave was quoted in statement released by the company.

In a telephone interview, de Borchgrave praised West as "the single most popular guy in the building" and said he had tried to persuade him to remain in his job.

"But we all suffer from burnout and Woody needs a break," de Borchgrave said.

De Borchgrave made the announcement to the assembled staff. Then a cake was produced to celebrate de Borchgrave's anniversary as editor in chief.

De Borchgrave said the year has been "hectic, exciting, challenging, and I think we've finally . . . emerged as a major player." He added that, "I am a conservative and proud to be one" and said that a conservative journalistic voice is needed in Washington.

It was also announced yesterday that Kirk Oberfeld will be managing editor of Insight, reporting directly to de Borchgrave.

West was an editorial writer at The Washington Star for the last seven years of his time there. After it folded he wrote editorials for The Milwaukee Journal before going to The Times editorial page. He became managing editor in November 1983.