James L. Harris, 54, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Washington Federal Savings and Loan Association and a former president of the Metropolitan Washington Savings and Loan League, died Oct. 3 at George Washington University Hospital following a heart attack.

Mr. Harris recently negotiated the merger of Jefferson Federal Savings and Loan into Washington Federal. He was the founder of SaveSystem of Washington, a discount-for-cash program that was a subsidiary of Washington Federal.

Mr. Harris, who lived in Bethesda, was born in Olustee, Fla. He served in the Navy and moved to this area in 1948.

He began his career at Washington Federal in 1951 as a teller. At the same time, he attended Strayer Business College, where he earned a master's degree in accounting.

He also studied at the Institute of Financial Education and Indiana University.

In 1960, he was elected a vice president. He was elected president in 1976 and chairman of the board last year.

Mr. Harris was a chairman of the D.C. Board of Equalization and Review, a director of the Washington Board of Realtors and a president of the Washington chapter of the Institute of Financial Education. He was a director-elect of the U.S. League of Savings Associations.

Survivors include his wife, Marcella of Bethesda; three children, Karen of Bethesda, Patricia Meyer of Burke, Va., and Greg of Winter Park, Fla.; his mother, Mary T. Harris of Bethesda; two brothers, Charles M. of Arlington, and William D. of Hollywood, Fla.; two sisters, Mary T. Gray of Los Angeles, and Norma J. Loud of Nashville, Tenn., and one grandchild.