Gerald H. Adams, 72, a retired government physicist and former business school instructor who was active in church organizations, died of cancer Friday at George Washington University.

Mr. Adams worked for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Standards for 36 years before retiring in 1977. He also was a part-time instructor at the old Cortez Peters School of Business in Washington for 17 years before resigning in the mid-1960s.

He had been a member of the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington for the past 12 years. During the time he had been a member of the vestry, served as a lay reader, and newsletter editor. He also had been a member of the choir and the Derby Club.

Mr. Adams was a native of Omaha, Neb., and attended Creighton Univeristy and Howard University. He earned a bachelor's degree at Wiley College in Marshall, Tex.

Mr. Adams had lived in Washington since 1941.

Survivors include his wife, Marie, of Washington; a son, Robert of New York; four daughters, Shirley Selico of Los Angeles, Kathleen Breland of Hempstead, N.Y., Patrice Porter of Junction City, Kan., and Jacqueline Adams of Washington; a brother, the Rev. Alger Adams of Hastings On Hudson, N.Y.; a sister, Sylvia Delores Williams of Fort Worth, Tex., and eight grandchildren.