Herlis S. Tillman, 51, president of the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association Inc. and a Washington funeral director since the early 1950s, died of cancer, Thursday at Georgetown University Hospital.

Mr. Tillman was born in Washington and grew up in Kinston, N.C. After service in the Army, he graduated from the Echols School of Mortuary Science in Philadelphia. He moved to Washington in the early 1950s and was associated with Frazier's Funeral Home here until 1976, when he became director of the Robert G. Mason Funeral Home.

In addition to being president of the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association, a position he held at the time of his death, Mr. Tillman was chairman of the D.C. board of licensure of funeral directors and embalmers. For nine years beginning in the mid-1960s, he was president of the Independent Funeral Directors Association of Washington. He also was a member of the National Funeral Directors Association and of the Funeral Directors Association of Metropolitan Washington.

Mr. Tillman was chairman of the board of advisers to the mortuary science department of the University of the District of Columbia.

Apart from his professional life, Mr. Tillman was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Model Inner City Community, the board of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and treasurer of the Anacostia Southeast Neighborhood Federal Credit Union.

He was a member of the allocation review panel of the United Way and received a Merit Award from the NAACP in 1974. He also had received a certificate of appreciation from the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Mr. Tillman's marriage to the former Jacqueline Bridgette ended in divorce.

Survivors include a daughter, Melissa B. Carter of Hyattsville; a son, Herlis R., of Boston; a brother, James E. Tillman of New York City; three sisters, Rhodilla A. White and Grace T. Wall, both of Kinston, N.C., and Florice T. Roper of Washington, and two grandchildren.