W. Napoleon Rivers Jr., 82, a retired chairman of the department of foreign languages at the old D.C. Teachers College, now part of the University of the District of Columbia, died of cancer Wednesday at Hadley Memorial Hospital in Washington.

Dr. Rivers moved to Washington in 1932 to head the languages department at the old Miner Teachers College, which later became part of D.C. Teachers. He held that post until his retirement in 1974.

A native of Mobile, Ala., Dr. Rivers earned a bachelor's degree in classics at Talladega (Ala.) College. He earned a master's degree in Romance languages at the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in the same subject from Cornell University.

He taught at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., at Talladega and North Carolina A&T College before moving here.

In the 1930s, Dr. Rivers founded the Park Road Housing Co. in Washington. He was president of the firm until his death. He also was a founding trustee of the DeRand Real Estate Investment Trust in Arlington.

Dr. Rivers played baseball and football at Talladega and for 26 years was a referee for football games at black colleges. He also was one of the moving forces behind the Annual Capital Classic and National Football Festival in Washington in the early 1940s. These featured games among leading black college teams.

During World War I, Dr. Rivers was a lieutenant in the Army field artillery and served in France.

He was a member of the American Translators Association, the Modern Language Association of America, the American Association of Teachers of French and the College Language Association. He received a certificate of honorable mention from the University of Paris for his studies in French poetry and conversation. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He contributed numerous articles to professional journals.

He also a member of the YMCA and the Pigskin Club of Washington.

His wife, Dr. Gertrude Burroughs Rivers, a professor emeritus at Howard University, died last December.

Survivors include two daughters, Charlotte V. Rivers of Washington, and Gertrude R. Robinson of Los Angeles; four sisters, Ora Dee Davis, Margueritte Lindsay and Tilloretta Owens, all of New York City, and Bertha McCants of Deal Md., and one grandson.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the University of the District of Columbia for the support of international study and travel for foreign language students. Checks should be made payable to UDC-Dr. W. Napoleon Rivers Jr. Memorial Fund, UDC, P.O. Box 101, 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, 20008.