J. Francis (Frank) Pohlaus, 63, a retired legal counsel for the Washington bureau of the NAACP who played a role in the passage of major civil rights legislation, died Wednesday at Providence Hospital after a heart attack.

Mr. Pohlaus, who began his carrer with the NAACP in 1954, not only lobbied for the passage of civil rights legislation, but worked closely with congressional staffs in drafting the bills. He was known for his ability to spot passages that might not hold up under legal challenges in the courts.

Clarence Mitchell, the former Washington bureau director of the NAACP, called Mr. Pohlhaus' legislative work "invaluable."

Apart from his work with Congress, Mr. Pohlhaus helped numerous individuals with legal problems. During the riots in Washington after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, he spent all night at a police station, arranging bail for young blacks who had been arrested.

At his retirement earlier this year, Mr. Pohlaus recalled driving through the deserted streets of Washington during the curfew imposed because of the disturbances. The buildings in the riot corridors, he said, "were burning like smokestacks." He said he had a sign on his car windshield, hastily scrawled by his daughter, that said "lawyer."

His secretary for 14 years, Mary Cunningham, remembered that many blacks who came into the office to seek help was disconcerted when they discovered that Mr. Pohlhaus was white.

"'I don't want to see him. I don't want to see any white man,'" Cunningham recalled their saying. Then she would explain that Mr. Pohlhaus was the NAACP's only legal counsel in Washington and that he was the man who could help them. That satisfied them. After 14 years, Cunningham said, she came to regard Frank Pohlaus as "one of us."

Mr. Pohlhaus was a native of Baltimore and a 1940 graduate of Western Maryland College in Westminister. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces in India.

After the war, he moved to Washington and graduated from Georgetown University's law school in 1948. From 1949 until 1950, he had a private law practice in Baltimore and was an adviser for the Baltimore Urban League. He then returned to Washington and worked for a year at the old Federal Security Agency.

He joined the Department of Justice in 1951 as an attorney with the old Civil Rights Section, now the Civil Rights Division. He remained with Justice until 1953, when he joined the NAACP.

Mr. Pohlhaus, who lived in Washington, was a special consultant to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and was a member of the school board of the Archdiocese of Washington. He belonged to the parish of St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church in Washington.

Survivors include his wife, the former Elizabeth F. Ryan, whom he married in 1955; four daughters, Mari Francis, Elizabeth Regina, Judith Lourdes and Theresa Marie, and one son, Christopher James, all of Washington; one sister, Mildred Parr of Baltimore, and one brother, William, of Wayne, Pa.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Southeast Crisis Pregnancy Center, c/o Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, 3800 Ely P. SE, Washington, 20019. CAPTION:

Picture, J. FRANCIS POHLAUS