Robert La Tourette Cavenaugh, 72, a retired colonel in the Army Medical Corps and a former chief of the Maryland bureau of laboratories administration, died of meningitis Wednesday at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

Dr. Cavenaugh was commissioned in the Army Medical Corps in 1935. He was a pathologist by training, but also became an expert in the planning and construction of medical laboratories. He served in China during World War II and retired from the Army as director of the 2d Army medical laboratory at Fort Meade, Md., in 1963.

That year, he became chief of the bureau of laboratories administration in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The bureau supervises state laboratories. He retired a second time in 1976 and then became medical director of Orkand Laboratories in Silver Spring.

Dr. Cavenaugh was born near Lincoln, Neb. He graduated from Cornell University in 1930, and then earned a medical degree from Cornell four years later. He was a fellow of the College of American Pathologists and the Maryland Osciety of Pathologists, of which he was membership chairman.

He also was a deacon, an elder and a clerk of session for the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltiore.

Dr. Cavenaugh's survivors include his wife, Herta Wilson Cavenaugh, of the home in Baltimore; a daughter, Cynthia C. Jones, of Rockville; three sons, Robert W., of Houston, James L., of Harrisburg, Pa., and David N., of Arlington, and seven grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Organ Restoration Fund, Second Presbyterian Church, Baltimore. CAPTION: Picture, ROBERT L. CAVENAUGH