Grace Elizabeth Gruenther, 81, the wife of retired Army Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, died Friday at Walter Reed Hospital. She had a form of rheumatoid arthritis that affected her lungs.

Mrs. Gruenther was born in Jeffersonville, Ind., and grew up there. She was an Army field clerk at Camp Knox, Ky., during World War I. She met her future husband there and they were married on Aug. 22, 1922.

At one time in the 1930s', when Gen. Gruenther was an instructor at the Military Academy at West Point, he supplemented his meager Army income by refereeing bridge matches in New York City. Gruenther would drive him to and from the city on these occasions so he could get some sleep before teaching in the morning.

During World War II, when her husband came to be regarded as one of the most capable officers in the Army, Mrs. Gruenther lived in Washington.

From 1950 to 1956, the Gruenthers lived in Paris, where Gen. Gruenther served as chief of staff and then as supreme commander of NATO.

Mrs. Gruenther spent many hours at the famous Flea Market in Paris. In addition to objects she bought for herself, she stopped for prizes given at bingo games at NATO headquarters and the games were advertised as the "Grace Gruenther Flea Market Prize Bingo Games."

The Gruenthers made their home in Washington when he became president of the American Red Cross in 1957. Mrs. Greunther was active in Red Cross activities for many years. Her hobbies included gardening.

In addition to her husband, of the home in Washington, survivors include two sons, Donald A., a retired Army colonel who lives in Falls Church, and Richard L., a retired Army colonel who works at the U.S. Military Academy and who lives in Corning, N.Y.., 13 Grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, GRACE E. GRUENTHER