Herbert S. Nelson 61, a retired U.S. Geological Survey research cartographer who was active in community groups in Fairfax, died of cancer Monday at Fairfax Hospital.

He had worked in the Geological Survey's topographic division for more than 36 years, and was a member of the division's systems and standard team when he retired in January.

Mr. Nelson helped organize the Fairfax Players and had performed in a number of its plays, with major roles in "Death of a Salesman" and "You Can't Take It With You." He also had spent two years as treasurer of the Fairfax High School Band Boosters and had coached Little League baseball in Fairfax.

He had served as an Army officer in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II.

Mr. Nelson was a native of Washington and a graduate of McKinley Technical High School. He studied cival engineering at the universities of Illinois and Wisconsin.

He lived in Arlington before moving to Fairfax 26 yars ago.

Survivors include his wife of 37 years, the former Lee Anna Murray of Fairfax; a daughter, Janice Patteson of Warrenton; two sons, Martin E., of Fairfax, and Jerry L., of London, England; a sister, Ethel M. Palmer of Arlington; two brothers, Edward O., of San Diego, Calif., and Theodore W., of Falls Church, and three grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.