John Doren Tomlinson, 78, a retired Foreign Service Officer who had served in Africa and Asia and at several international conferences, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at George Washington University Hospital.

Mr. Tomlinson joined the State Department's export controls division in 1941, and became a foreign service officer in 1944. During the mid-1940s he attended the Dumbarton Oaks conference and was an adviser at the San Francisco and London conferences establishing the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

During the 1950s, he was stationed in South Africa, Beirut, and what was then the Belgian Congo. At the time he retired from the Foreign Service in 1963, he was consul general in Casablanca, Morocco.

From 1963 to 1966, he was an executive with the American Council of Churches' Church Center for the United Nations in New York, then spent seven years with the American Friends of the Middle East in Morocco. He had made his home in Washington since 1974.

Mr. Tomlinson was a native of Wheaton, Ill., and a 1925 graduate of Northwestern University. He earned a master's degree at Columbia University and a doctoral degree in political science at the University of Geneva. He taught political science at Wabash College from 1927 to 1941.

During the past several years Mr. Tomlinson had served on the scholarship committee of DACOR (Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired).

His wife of 42 years, the former Jean Duncan-Clark, died in 1978.Mr. Tomlinson's survivors include a daugher, Elizabeth Theiss of Ballwin, Mo.; one sister, and three grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to DACOR's scholarship fund.