Arthur B. Hayes Jr., 81, a retired Washington insurance executive who was active in church and Masonic organizations, died Tuesday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He had cancer.

Mr. Hayes, who lived in Chevy Chase, began his career in surety and bonding in 1932 when he opened the Washington office of the United States Guarantee Company. The firm later was merged into the Federal Insurance Company of the Chubb Group of insurance companies. Mr. Hayes was general manager of the Washington office of the Chubb Group when he retired in 1964.

Apart from his work in insurance, Mr. Hayes was a founder of Ferguson Enterprises, a plumbing supply company in Newport News, Va.

Mr. Hayes was a life member of the Mason's Columbia Blue Lodge and was an officer of the Scottish Rite. He was a member of the Association of Oldest Inhabitants, the American Legion and the Columbia Country Club.

He was a member of All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington where he once served on the vestry.

Mr. Hayes was born in Ogden, Utah, and came to Washington in 1904. He was a graduate of the old Central High School and a 1922 graduate of George Washington University. He served in the Army during World War I.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Thelma Reeve Hayes of Chevy Chase; a son, Arthur B. Hayes III of Gaithersburg; a daughter, Nancy Ellen Hayes of Chevy Chase; four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to a medical fund of one's choice.