J. William Reed, 52, founder and president of his own lithographing firm in Alexandria and a former sales executive in a printing company, died of cancer Tuesday at Mount Vernon Hospital.

Mr. Reed joined Lanman Engraving Co. in Baltimore in the 1950s and later worked in its sales department in New York. In 1966, he moved to Alexandria, where he was Lanman's vice president for sales.

In 1973, he started his own business, the J. William Reed Co.

Mr. Reed was born in Atlanta, and moved to the Baltimore area about 1937. He served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific in World War II and later attended the University of Baltimore. He was a Dale Carnegie instructor in Baltimore, Washington and New York before starting in the printing business.

He was a member of the Belle Haven Country Club, the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, the Rotary Club of Alexandria, the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce, the Printing Industries of Virginia and of the Washington area, and the board of visitors of Alexandria Hospital. He also was a past president of the Virginia Left-Handers Golf Association.

Survivors include his wife, Janet Lee Hammond Reed, of the home in Alexandria; a son and a daughter by a previous marriage, James W. Jr., of Key Biscayne, Fla., and Debra Reed, of San Antonio, Tex.; two stepsons, Brian P. and John D. Beveridge, both of the home in Alexandria; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clay B. Reed Sr., of Atlanta; a brother, Clay B. Jr., of Chicago; a sister, Mrs. Ralph Adams, of Ellicott City, Md., and one grandson.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Mount Vernon Hospital Memorial Fund, Alexandria.