Senior federal Judge William B. Jones, 72, a former chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, died of cancer yesterday at his home in Chevy Chase.

Judge Jones was sworn in as a federal judge here on May 14, 1962, having been appointed by President John F. Kennedy under the sponsorship of former Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) He became chief judge by reason of seniority on July 14, 1975, and remained in that capacity until March 20, 1977, his 70th birthday. He remained on the bench as a senior judge until his death.

By reason of its being in Washington, the court on which Judge Jones served decides more cases of national as well as of local significance, perhaps, than any other federal trial court in the country. In his years on the bench, Judge Jones became highly esteemed among his colleagues as well as by members of the bar. His reputation as a trial judge was national as well as local.

Among his rulings was one in 1973 in which he blocked attempts by the Nixon administration to dismantle the Office of Economic Opportunity by administrative flat. Judge Jones said that the central elements of the office - the community action, economic development and legal services programs - could be terminated only by an act of Congress, which had established them.

In a series of rulings in 1975, he compelled the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to make its Metro subway facilities accessible to handicapped persons by installing elevators and other necessary equipment.

As chief judge, he expressed the view that persons convicted of fraud, embezzlement, corruption and other white collar crimes should be sentenced to prison terms rather than merely being fined or placed on probation. He believed that jail should not be reserved for those who commit street crimes and crimes of violence.

During a court hearing in 1976 in which he sent two offenders to jail, Judge Jones said, "This white collar crime business has simply got to stop. This court is going to do everything it can to deter white collar criminals."

The hallmark of Judge Jones' work as a trial judge was careful preparation. He mastered the issues involved in cases that came before him and for this reason many lawyers considered themselves lucky to be in his court-room.

Judge Jones told an interviewer in 1975 that one of the major responsibilities of a judge is to "control a trial and see that it is fair." He had a reputation for making attorneys stick to the important questions and he could be stern with those who strayed from them. He also was noted for the care and scholarship he brought to the preparation of his written opinions.

William B. Bryant, now the chief judge of the court, described his late colleague as "really an ideal trial judge."

Disputes that find their way into the injudicial system should be resolved on the basis of the real issues." Bryant said. "That is the way of assuring use of the best justice we can get. Bill was ever sensitive to that kind of standard."

What he wanted to do was administer justice," said Judge Paul F. McArdle of D.C. Superior Court.

Shortly before in 70th birthday, Jones announced that he would become a senior judge, meaning that he would put aside full-time duties while at the same time continuing to hear cases and creating a vacancy on the court. "Younger men or younger women are needed to come into this challenging court," he said at that time. There is interesting work to be done here."

William Blakely Jones was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on March 20, 1907. He grew up in Denison and Sioux City, Iowa, and then went on to the University of Notre Dame. He played football under the fabled Knute Rockne there as an undergraduate. While studying for his law degree at Notre Dame, he was a coach of the freshman football team under Rockne's direction. Rockne helped the future judge get his first full-time job, which was football coach at Carrol College in Helena, Mont.

He was admitted to practise law in Montana in 1931 and was sworn in by A. J. Horsky, the chief judge of Montana and the father of Charles Horsky, now a noted lawyer in Washington and a longtime friend of Judge Jones.

Judge Jones established a private law practice in Montana and also served as a special assistant attorney general of that state.

In 1937, he moved to Washington and became a lawyer in the lands division of the Justice Department. At the time, he did not plan to stay here. In the event, he spent the rest of his life in Washington.

In 1943, he was appointed chief counsel of the tire and automobile rationing programs in the Office of Price Administration, one of the major economic agencies of World War II. He also was secretary of the Joint British-American Patent Interchange Committee during the war.

In 1946, he entered private practice with the Washington law firm of Hamilton & Hamilton. He specialized in trial work and soon became a partner. He remained with the firm until he was appointed to the federal bench.

Charles Horsky, who first knew Judge Jones in Montana, credits his friend's experience as both a government and a private attorney with the broad outlook he displayed as a judge.

Before his appointment to the bench, Judge Jones was active in the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. He was a member of its board of directors, chairman of its judicial selection committee and a delegate to the National Conference on Court Administration. He also held several positions in the American Bar Association, including membership on the Committee of Professional Ethics. He was elected a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1959. He was chairman of the Judicial Administration Division of the American Bar Association in 1972 and 1973.

But his favorite legal project was the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, of which he was a founder and board member. The institute conducts seminars to train lawyers in trial view in 1973 that the D.C. Bar "has some very fine trial lawyers, but the majority of them aren't that well trained." The institute's program is nationwide.

In private life, Judge Jones was known as a gregarious man whose interests ranged from sports to ballet. Swimming was among the recreations he enjoyed. He retained his love of the West.

Judge Jones was a member of the Metropolitan Club, the Columbia Country Club and the National Lawyers Club of Washington.

Survivors include his wife, the former Alice Danicich, of Anaconda, Mont., of the home in Chevy Chase, and a daughter, Barbara, of Washington.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to a charity of one's choice. CAPTION: Picture, JUDGE WILLIAM B. JONES