William E. Hughes, 73, a retired federal government press officer, died Monday at his home in Arlington after a long illness.

Before his retirement in 1970, he was in charge of the news operations for the Atomic Energy Commission.

Born in Parkersburg, W. Va., Mr. Hughes received a law degree from the University of West Virginia. After practicing law briefly in Morgantown, he joined the Morgantown Dominion News, where he was editor before coming here in 1942.

Mr. Hughes headed the press section of the Office of Price Administration during World War II, and held a similar position with the Office of Price Stablization during the Korean conflict.

In between, he did public information work for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and for a private organization, Resources for the Future.

Mr. Hughes was an active member of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Arlington, where he had served as a vestryman and sang in the choir.

He is survived by his wife, Irene Noud Hughes, of the home; a daughter, Linda Gontrum, of Columbia, Md.; a sister, Eleanor Ridgeway, of Point Marion, Pa.; a brother, Donald, of Parkersburg, and a grandchild.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy may be in the form of contributions to the Music Fund of St. Peter's Church.