W. Otto McClarrin, 64, a Department of Health and Human Services official who was a former public relations director of Howard University, journalist, and foreign service officer, died of cardiac arrest Jan. 28 at the Washington Hospital Center. He lived in Washington.

He was special assistant to the associate administrator of the management health resources and services administration of HHS. He had joined the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, a predecessor of HHS, in 1970.

Mr. McClarrin was born in Atlanta and reared in Philadelphia. He graduated from Howard University, worked for several publications in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and helped organize Howard's first formal publicity program before serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

He became editor-in-chief of Newspic magazine, a black publication, in 1945. Two years later, he returned to Howard, where he was publicity director and public relations director until 1956.

From 1956 to 1958, he served in the Foreign Service as a public affairs officer in the U.S. Information Agency. He served in this country and Indonesia. He then worked as a private public relations consultant, an information officer with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and an official of the Office of Economic Opportunity before joining HEW.

Mr. McClarrin was a member of the National Press Club.

Survivors include his wife, the former Frances Justine Morsell, and a daughter, Lynn McClarrin, both of Washington, and a son, Vaughn, of Richmond.