Jackson Graham, the first general manager of Washington's Metro transit system, and the man who took the subway system from the drawing board to the construction stage, died yesterday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 69. The cause of death could not be immediately determined.

A strong-willed man known as a top-flight engineer and administrator, Graham, who had spent 31 years in the Army Corps of Engineers, was Metro's general manager from March 1967 until his retirement in January 1976.

He was recruited for the job when Washington's long-discussed subway system was little more than a plan and an overall design. When he left, 45 miles of Metro was under construction, five stations had been completed and the first trains were making test runs under downtown streets.

It was a virtuoso performance, involving the expenditure during his tenure of more than $1.8 billion, for such purposes as moving 8 million cubic yards of earth and the purchase of 2 million cubic yards of concrete, 150,000 tons of reinforcing steel bars and 80 million board feet of steel.

A man of charm, efficiency and the incredible energy required to oversee one of the world's largest public works projects, Graham came to Metro after his retirement from the Corps of Engineers, in which he held the rank of major general. By the time he retired from the Engineers, an artificial valve had been implanted in his heart and he was ready to enjoy a rest.

"I wanted to get out of the rat race," he once said in an interview. "I was just not in the mood to take a job that you could see was going to be less and less fun as it went along."

But he did take the Metro job, and his apprehensions proved prophetic. Though he got the subway system off the blueprints and under the ground, moving the vast project beyond the point of no return, doubts about the system's ultimate feasibility and ability to expand were being raised.

When he left, the money that had been spent was near the $2 billion sum that he had earlier defended in Congress. It was also clear that Metro would never make enough in fares to pay for operating costs as once had been promised.

"I could see that the power to carry out my duties was going to crumble," Graham said in an interview two years after his retirement from the Metro post.

Even in retirement, he continued to be a big Metro booster. He blasted White House and congressional officials when what he regarded as the federal government's "moral commitment" to help fund the system wavered.

And he was not shy about pointing an accusing finger at both Republican and Democratic presidents if he believed they were being stingy with transportation funds to complete the transit system.

"To me, the outstanding thing about Jack, in addition to being the master builder, was the incredible integrity he built into this massive project and the way we conducted our affairs," said Theodore Lutz, who succeeded Graham as general manager. "He brought with him a way that things were done."

As Metro general manager, Graham also presided over the public takeover of the area bus systems.

While Graham was often smiling and genial, some who encountered him said he could also be starchy and abrasive. Critics contended that Graham had difficulty in delegating authority and may have overextended himself in trying to oversee both construction of the subway system and the operation of the buses.

When the subway was being built, he would make Sunday tours of the construction sites, making notes on what he wanted corrected. His interest in all facets of Metro even extended to choosing the colors for the subway car interiors.

Graham retired on 100 percent disability in 1967 from his post as director of civil works for the Army Corps of Engineers. Before that he had served as director of personnel, and his many other assignments for the Engineers took him to four continents. He commanded combat engineers and built bridges, dams, levees and tunnels in several countries, including Brazil and the Philippines.

Born in Mosier, Ore., Graham attended Oregon State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

His father, A.E. (Jack) Graham, was also an engineer and served as foreman in charge of building the main piers of the Golden Gate Bridge. The young Graham helped his father during summers, working as a diver during construction of the bridge. Once, while diving, he got "the bends" caused by the high pressures involved, and almost drowned.

Graham is survived by his wife, Mabel Lee; a son, Jackson, of Cottage Grove, Ore., and a daughter, Dixie Johnston of Alexandria.