Willye Ward Watkins, 79, a former Spanish teacher in Texas who translated the personal memoirs of the Mexican revolutionary and president, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, died of cancer Friday at George Washington University Hospital.

Mrs. Watkins was born in Dale, Tex., and graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now a part of the University of Texas). She earned a master's degree in Spanish from the University of Texas and taught Spanish at Southwest Texas State Teachers College before coming here in 1939 with her husband, Ralph J. Watkins, an economist.

While at the University of Texas, Mrs. Watkins translated the handwritten text of Santa Anna's memoirs, now in the university's Garcia Library.

In 1944, she and her husband moved to New York City, where Dr. Watkins was a research director for Dun & Bradstreet. They returned here in 1957 when he became director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

For the past four years, Dr. and Mrs. Watkins lived in Cairo, where he was an adviser on Egyptian reconstruction and development. They returned here in March.

Mrs. Watkins was a member of the American Association of University Women.

Besides her husband, of the homes in Washington and Vermont, she is survived by two sons, Calvert, of Cambridge, Mass., and John, of Waldorf; a sister, Eula Ward Sutherland, of San Marcos, Tex., and five grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, WILLYE W. WATKINS