Robert J. Boylan, 71, a retired Foreign Service Officer who had worked in public relations in Washington for the past six years, died of cancer Sunday at Georgetown University Hospital.

He was a senior editorial specialist with both the National Retired Teachers Association and the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington.

Mr. Boylan served as a Foreign Service Officer with the old U.S. Information Agency for 19 years before retiring in 1970. He was an information and cultural affairs officer in Canberra, Australia, Tokyo, Japan, Calcutta, India, and Singapore.

He was a native of East St. Louis, Ill., and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at St. Louis University. He also did graduate work at Princeton University. Before World War II, he was a reporter with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and worked in the public relations department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

He served with the Navy in the Pacific during World war II and attained the rank of commander. After the war, he was public relations director at Parks Air College in St. Louis before joining the government.

He was a resident of Washington.

Survivors include his wife, Margaret, and a daughter, elisabeth, both of Washington; another daughter, Ann Boylan of Arlington; a son, Robert IV, of Alexandria, and a sister, Rose Josephine Boylan of East St. Louis, Ill.