Martha Louise Russ, 86, a retired receptionist and telephone operator who had lived in the Washington area for the past 56 years, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at Fairfax Hospital.

During the late 1930s, Mrs. Russ was a receptionist at the old Mayer Furniture Co. in Washington during the day and was a telephone operator at Walter Reed Army Hospital at night. She also worked at Walter Reed during World War II.

She was a receptionist at the Bureau of National Affairs for several years before retiring in 1951. She then traveled about the country for six years assisting her husband, George L. Russ, who was a union organizer and official. Mr. Russ is a former president of the Insurance Workers Union (AFL-CIO).

Mrs. Russ was a native of Baltimore, where she graduated from the Peabody Institute. She lived in Portsmouth, Va., from 1915 to 1924, then resided in Washington before moving to Arlington in 1951.

She was a member of the Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church and was a member of its choir from 1924 to 1937. She also had been an assistant director of the choir.

In addition to her husband of 65 years, of Arlington, Mrs. Russ is survived by two daughters, Louise W. Fink of Arlington and Jane C. Jones of Vienna, Va., 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington.