Robert N. (Buddy) Cohen, 52, the president of I. Feldman & Company, one of the largest independently owned food distribution companies in the Washington area, died Tuesday at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. He had arteriosclerosis.

The company was founded by Isadore Feldman, Mr. Cohen's father-in-law. When Mr. Cohen joined the firm in 1953, it was a supplier of poultry. Mr. Cohen was its general manager and sales manager until 1960, when he was named vice president. He became president in 1971 but had been in partial retirement since March 1980, for reasons of health.

Mr. Cohen, who lived in Silver Spring, is credited with expanding Feldman's operations to include general wholesale food distribution in addition to poultry and increasing its sales to $35 million a year.

He was a past president of the Greater Washington Food Wholesalers Association and a member of Le Chaine de Rotiserie, a gourmet food club. He also was a member of the Amity, Lions and Progress clubs and the Cornerstone Lodge of the Masons.

Mr. Cohen was born in Wilmington, Del., and reared in Washington. He served with the Navy aboard the heavy cruiser St. Paul in Korean waters between 1949 and 1953.

His marriage to the former Rona Feldman ended in divorce.

Survivors include one son, Andrew, and two daughters, Debra Oler and Gail Allen, all of Silver Spring; his father, Macye Cohen, also of Silver Spring; one brother, Alfred, of Washington, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Heart Association.