Peter Edson, 81, the Newspaper Enterprise Association columnist whose revelations touched off Richard Nixon's famous "Checkers" speech, died here Thursday after a stroke.

Mr. Edson retired from NEA in 1964 after 50 years as a reporter, editor and columnist. "Everybody over 65 should retire, especially members of Congress," he said then. "Their ideas are frozen . . . reporting in Washington has been nice work - the best in the world - and I've had it."

Mr. Edson's Washington column for the NEA, begun in 1941, was one of the most widely syndicated in the world, appearing for years in more than 750 newspapers. Probably the most famous of his scoops was a 1952, story about the $20,000 fund that businessmen set up to defray office and travel expenses for then Sen. Nixon.

Nixon had just been nominated to run for Vice President, and the furor resulting from Mr. Edson's story caused Nixon to make the emotional "Checkers" television speech credited with saving his place on the Republican ticket.

Mr. Edson began his journalistic career as high school correspondent for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal-Gazette. He worked for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the Boston Post, the New Haven Register and the Pittsburgh Press, joining NEA in 1927.

As a columnist, he won the coveted Sigma Delta Chi award in 1946 among other honors.

He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Wabash College in Crawfordsville. Ind., and received a master's degree from Harvard in 1925.

Mr. Edson is survived by his wife, Joyce, and three children.