F. Joseph (Jiggs) Donohue, 78, well-known Washington laywer since 1925 and civic leader and former president of the D.C. Board of Commissioners, died yesterday at George Washington University Hospital after a heart attack.

One of the most popular political figures of this city at a time when its populace had no vote, a friend of presidents and presidential aspirants, a favorite speaker at any and all occasions, Mr. Donohue had worked at his office on Monday. He was stricken at his home in Georgetown Monday night.

Mr. Donohue was appointed a D.C. commissioner in February 1951 by President Harry S. Truman and confirmed by the Senate a month later.

At the time, he was assistant director in charge of enforcement in the Office of Price Stabilization. He also reportedly was a poker-playing crony of the chief executive.

Mr. Donohue had made something of a name for himself nationally in the late 1940s. As special assistant to the U.S. attorney general, he had successfully prosecuted labor leader Harry Bridges, whose deportation was sought by the government. (The conviction later was reversed).

But Mr. Donohue was considered a dark horse candidate for one of the top jobs in the District of Columbia.

His nomination was greeted with some concern in some quarters because he was closely identified with wholesale liquor interests. At the same time it was cheered because he had gone on record as favoring home rule.

Mr. Donohue did not let his backers down. He divorced himself from participating in matters relating to the liquor industry. He plunged head first into hard work.

Within seven weeks after he was sworn in to office, he had make more than 80 speeches. He talked at breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Later, Mr. Donohue had radio and television shows in order to give people weekly reports on their local governement. He helped bring about improvements in the police department.

He recognized the importance of redevelopment and long-fange capital improvements. He showed tolerance in racial matters. The schools then were still segregated. He worked to improve conditions in the black schools.

After he became president of the Board of Commissioners on July 1, 1952, Mr. Donohue fought vigorously to get a larger federal payment to the city.

Although he was generally an agreeable and placid man, Mr. Donohue could talk tough. Like when he went before the Senate District Committee one time to give his views on what could be done about better governing the city.

He accused the Congress of "studied neglect" and deplored the tremendous burden that had fallen upon Washington taxpayers. He called for reorganization of the city's government and for home rule.

With a change to a Republican administration in 1953, Mr. Donohue, an active Democrat, submitted his resignation in April, Along with it went his own report on what he felt had been accomplished.

"After two years of public service, I find myself financially poorer, physically and mentally more tired but spiritually tremendously enriched," he said.

He noted that board meetings had been opened to the press, a day had been set aside each month to hear citizens views on proposed changes in regulations, a Citizens Advisory Council had been established, and the firing and promotion of D.C. government employes became based on merit rather than politics.

In an editorial when he left the position, The Washington Post said he deserved "the lasting gratitude of the residents of Washington for the kind of job he has done. Not only did he render conscientious and progressive service as one of the city's nonelected overseers, he brought to the District Commission a vitality that invigorated the whole city government . . . Perhaps his greatest service was in stimulating new interest on the part of citizens in their local government."

In later years, after Washington's form of government changed to a mayor-commissioner and city council, Mr. Donohue changed his views and expressed opposition to home rule. At that time, the mayor and council members were presidential appointees.

He said then that Washington was a federal city and that the federal government's interests should come first. He noted that both blacks and whites were moving to the suburbs, leaving poorer persons behind with a resulting decline in the tax base.

He added, without further explanation, that while he backed the proposal giving the city a nonvoting delegate to Congress, he did not favor giving the delegate a vote.

Mr. Donohue had frequently been praised for, and had been proud of, his reputation of keeping an open mind and for changing it when he was convinced he was wrong.

In 1956, he ran the unsuccessful bid by the late Sen. Estes Kefauver for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he succeeded in getting the vice presidential nomination for his candidate. He served as vice chairman of the (Adlai) Stevenson-Kefauver Campaign Committee that year. He had been chairman of the District of Columbia delegation to the Democratic National Convention in 1952.

Born in Lynn, Mass., Mr. Donohue graduated from Catholic University in 1922 and received his law degree there three years later. He was a track star and played football and other sports. He was one of the original inductees in the Catholic University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Mr. Donohue was an instructor of economics and banking at both Catholic University and the American Institute of Banking from 1922 to 1930. He revised the textbook, "Standard Banking," for the American Bankers Association.

He had been a director of the First National Bank of Washington and president of the Realty Title Insurance Co. For the past four years, he and his firm, Donohue, Kaufmann, Shaw and Kligman, of which he was senior partner, had represented Financial General Bank Shares before the Federal Reserve Board.

Mr. Donohue also had taught law at Columbus University, now part of Catholic University, from 1936 to 1940. He was a lecturer at the Army Industrial College and the Washington police academy.

A veteran of brief Army service in Worl War I, Mr. Donohue was an Army Air Force combat intelligence officer in World War II. He saw duty in England and France with a heavy bombardment group and earned a Bronze Star. He later was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

He was a member of the D.C. and American Bass Associations, a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a member of the National Lawyers Club and the Barristers. He belonged to the American Legion, the American Veterans of World War II, the Military Order of World Wars and the Army & Navy Club.

On Mr. Donohue's 75th birthday, judges, lawyers, bank presidents and businessmen gathered to honor him. It was only one of many testimonials that had been given to him over the years.

"When he was the commissioner," recalled one guest, "he was Mister Big in the District." His friends still thought of him that way until his death.

He is survived by his wife, Martha Vey Apperson Donohue, of the home.