Robert L. Riggs, 78, the chief of the Washington bureau of the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper from 1942 to 1967, died at Highlands Baptist Hospital in Louisville Tuesday following a heart attack.

Mr. Riggs was a member of the Washington press corps who covered the major stories that are the responsibility of newspaper bureau chiefs, including every national political convention from 1944 through 1964. He was elected president of the Gridiron Club in 1961.

The organization is made up of prominent representatives of the news media and gives an annual dinner to which the president and other figures are invited. A highlight of these occasions is the presentation of a number of satirical sketches, many of which poke fun at the honored guests.

After retiring from the Courier-Journal, Mr. Riggs became an administrative assistant to Rep. Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.) and then to Sen. John Sherman Cooper (R.Ky.). He returned to Louisville about four years ago.

Mr. Riggs was born in Joplin, Mo. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1927 and later worked for the Associated Press in Wisconsin and then for the Milwaukee Journal. He joined the Courier-Journal in about 1930.

Before being assigned to the Washington bureau, Mr. Riggs held most of the editing positions at the newspaper. Long after he moved here, he made recordings of his recollections of President Harry S. Truman for the Truman Library in Independence, Mo.

A particular interest of Mr. Riggs was the Battle of Gettysburg. He became a student of it when a friend gave him a book about the battle during an illness. Mr. Riggs was fond of recounting his own understanding of what happened there to all who would listen.

Mr. Riggs' survivors include his wife, the former Dorothy Harrison, of 2500 Glenmary Ave., Louisville, Ky., 40204; a son, Russell H., also of Louisville; a brother, M. Dudley, of Missouri, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Memorial Fund of the Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville.