Charles Fahy, 87, a soft-spoken liberal who was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals here for 30 years after compiling a distinguished career as a Roosevelt administration lawyer, died last night at Georgetown University Hospital.

Judge Fahy took his seat on the appeals court bench in 1949, and assumed senior status in 1967. He continued to serve until he entered the hospital a few days ago. He reportedly had lung cancer.

A native of Rome, Ga., he studied at Notre Dame and Georgetown universities, and won the Navy Cross for his exploits as a biplane pilot in World War I. He was noted for personally arguing before the Supreme Court three of the cases that upheld one of the landmark pieces of New Deal labor legislation, the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act.

During his career on the bench, Judge Fahy won wide respect for his integrity, scholarship and legal ability. He was "a gentle, gentle man [who] was loved by everybody who knew him," said J. Skelly Wright, chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

Judge Fahy was "a great human being . . . one of the most loved men I've ever known in my life," Wright said last night. " . . . Truly a great man."

One of 11 children of a Georgia dry goods merchant, Judge Fahy returned to Washington after World War I to resume the law practice he began here in 1914. Forced subsequently to move to Sante Fe, N.M., because of his health, he began practicing there in 1924, and became city attorney in 1932.

A New Deal official who knew his work in New Mexico brought him to Washington in 1933 as assistant solicitor in the Interior Department. In 1935, he began five years as the first general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.

In upholding the Wagner act before the Supreme Court, Judge Fahy established the constitutionality of the NLRB.

In an interview 30 years ago, just after he had taken his appeals court seat, Judge Fahy called his work in defense of the Wagner act the most satisfying of his life, because the act did so much to "spread the area of individual liberty."

After becoming assistant solicitor general in 1940 -- before the United States entered World War II -- he helped negotiate the celebrated exchange of 50 old Navy destroyers to Britain in return for American use of British bases. Judge Fahy became solicitor general the next year, and remained in that post until 1945.

In 1945 and 1946 he was legal adviser and director of the legal division of the U.S. Military Government in Germany. In 1945, he served as an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the San Francisco conference that set up the United Nations.

The next year he became a legal adviser to the State Department and a U.S. member of the legal commission of the U.N. General Assembly. In 1947 and again in 1949 he was an alternate representative to the General Assembly. From 1948 to 1950 he served as chairman of a presidential commission on equal opporutnity in the Armed Forces.

After two years of private practice here, beginning in 1947, he was named by President Truman to the Court of Appeals. Among his rulings was the principal opinion in the DeWitt Easter case in 1966, which held that chronic alcoholism is a disease, not a crime.

Judge Fahy lived in Northwest Washington.

He was married in 1929 to the former Mary Agnes Lane, of the home. They had four children, Charles, Anne, Marie, Sara Agnes and Mary Agnes Johnson.