Lucile Watkins Ellison, 72, a retired National Education Association executive wrote children's books based on her real-life experiences, died of cancer Thursday at the Washington Home.

Mrs. Ellison's NEA career spanned 33 years. She first served on the staff of the division of field service and subsequently became assistant secretary of the NEA's National Commission for the Defense of Democracy Through Education. From 1961 until her retirement in 1970, she was executive secretary of the NEA Citizenship Committee.

She was born in Pennington, Ala., and graduated from Mississippi State College for Women, now Mississippi State University for Women.

Before moving to Washington in 1935, she was a reporter and a teacher in Meridian, Miss.

Mrs. Ellison began writing stories for children in 1974, when she learned she was terminally ill.

In a Washington Post interview published three days before her death, Mrs. Ellison spoke of the beneficial nature of her writing.

"It was great therapy. It was '74 and I had a year to live. And I realized that things had happened to me that will never happen again. . . ."

The stories, about life in her native Alabama 60 years ago, were peopled with the characters of her childhood from about age six, on through high school and college, and ended with her marriage in 1935 to George Ellison.

"Actually, I was six when the stories start, but we made Lucy seem a little older" for literary purposes, Mrs. Ellison said.

The first book, "Butter on Both Sides," was published by Scribner's in October. The publishing firm has options on the second and third volumes and there are two more, written since May.

Besides her husband, of Washington, her survivors include a brother, Leonard L. Watkins, of Merritt Island, Fla., and two sisters, Marie W. Carpenter of Meridian, and Mary Evelyn Watkins of Harrisonburg, Va.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Lucile Watkins Ellison Memorial Fund at Mississippi State University for Women in Columbus, Miss.