Dr. John E. Means, 52, retired chief of the Department of Labor's United Nation's division, died of cardiac arrest Sunday at Georgetown University Hospital. He was a resident of Washington.

Dr. Means was born in Arkansas and reared in Flint, Mich. He earned a bachelor's degree in history and international relations at the University of Detroit and a doctoral degree at Georgetown University in 1965.

He came to Washington in the mid-1950s, and was a staff aide to former senators Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.) and Pat McNamara (D-Mich.) during that decade.

Dr. Means taught international relations at Georgetown University from 1959 to 1961 and also served as a visiting professor of political philosophy at Howard University in 1961.

He became an international relations officer with the Labor Department in 1961. He was an adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. General Assembly from 1962 to 1965 and also a delegate on several United Nations social, economic and labor councils.

Dr. Means was named chief of the Labor Department's United Nations division 1962 and retired from that post in 1976.

He was a visiting professor at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1970 to 1972.

Dr. Means had served in the Army during the early 1950s.

He was a member of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, the American Political Science Association, the London Institute for Race Relations, and was an honarary fellow of the Harry Truman Library in Independence, Mo.

Survivors include a brother, Peter Clyde of Oakland, Calif.