Clare Hayes Timberlake, 74, the first U.S. ambassador to the Congo (Leopoldville), died of an aneurysm Feb. 22 at the Fernwood nursing home in Bethesda. He lived in Bethesda.

A career Foreign Service officer, Mr. Timberlake was named ambassador to the Congo (now Zaire) in 1960 when it gained its independence from Belgium. During the year he held the post, the Congo was in a state of civil war, and a U.N. peace-keeping force intervened.

In one incident, Mr. Timberlake shielded a photographer from a group of mutinous Congolese troops howling for him in front of the U.S. Embassy. The ambassador persuaded the troops to disperse.

After leaving the Congo, Mr. Timberlake was a special assistant to the under secretary of State for political affairs. He then chaired the advisory staff of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. From 1964 to 1965, he was permanent representative to the 17-nation Disarmament Committee in Geneva. He was a member of the Foreign Service board of examiners when he retired in 1970.

Mr. Timberlake was president of the Greater Washington Chapter of the Leukemia Society of America from 1971 to 1974, then served as national vice president and trustee of the organization.

Born in Jackson, Mich., he graduated from the University of Michigan. He earned a master's degree at George Washington University.

He entered the Foreign Service in 1930 and held posts in Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia. He was minister-counselor of embassies in Argentina and West Germany before going to the Congo as ambassador.

Survivors include his wife, Julia M., of Bethesda; two sons, Charles B., of New York City, and William L., of Washington; three daughters, Frances T. Lillis of Rockville, Katherine T. Hostage of Enid, Okla., and Mary Anne Timberlake of Salisbury, Md., and seven grandchildren.