James H. Mowery Jr., 56, a retired Arlington attorney and former insurance company employe, died of cancer Tuesday at Alexandria Hospital.

Mr. Mowery was born in Cleveland, Tenn., and came to Alexandria at an early age. He was a 1941 graduate of George Washington High School in Alexandria and a 1951 graduate of American University's law school.

He worked as a claims adjuster for Kemper Insurance during the 1950s and then for GEICO for four years. He opened his law office in Arlington in 1964.

Mr. Mowery specialized in personal injury law. He retired for reasons of health in 1977. He was a member of the American and Virginia bar associations. He also belonged to the American Trial Lawyers Association. a

He served with the Army in the South Pacific during World War II. He was a member of the Disabled American Veterans, the Arlington-Fairfax Lodge No. 2188 of the Elks, and the Arlington Baptist Prayer Group.

His marriage to the former Esta Buster ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter, Brenda Gayle Mowery of Glasgow, Ky.; a son, James H. III, of Alexandria; his mother, Josephine M. Mowery of Alexandria, and a sister, Doris Jean Mowery of Hendersonville, N.C.