George F. Bagby, 71, retired English teacher at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and founder of the Language Arts Teachers of Northern Virginia, died of cancer Tuesday at his Arlington home.

Mr. Bagby started as an English teacher at Thoma Jefferson Junior High School in Arlington in 1938. He then was principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington and chairman of the English department at George Washington High School in Alexandria. From 1961 until his retirement in 1973, he taught English at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

He was a past president of the Language Arts Teachers of Northern Virginia, an organization he founded about 1952, and served four years as president of the Virginia Association of Teachers of Englishe.

Mr. Bagby was born in Caroline County, Va., and earned a bachelor's degree from Tulane University in 1931. He was a longtime member of Arlington Centennial Lodge No. 81 of the Masons.

Survivors include his wife, Barbara, of the home in Arlington; two daughters, Mildred Ann Scanlon, of Manassas, and Nancy Abbate, of Garrisonville, Va., a son, George F. Jr., of Farmville, Va., and eight grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society. CAPTION: Picture, GEORGE F. BAGBY