Dr. John R. Pate, 79, a former public health physician and a retired director of disease control with the D.C. government, died of Alzheimer's disease Oct. 9 at Goodwin House, a retirement home in Alexandria. He lived in Arlington.

Dr. Pate was born in Scranton, S.C. He graduated from the University of South Carolina, where he also earned a master's degree in English. He received his medical degree from Duke University and moved to Washington in 1933.

For the next five years, he taught anatomy at the George Washington University medical school. He moved to Louisville in 1938 and worked for the Kentucky State Health Department. He earned a law degree from the University of Louisville in 1945. In 1948, he received a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and moved back to Washington.

He joined what later became the Department of Human Services as the director of the Southwest Health Center. He was director of the bureau of cancer control and the chronic disease program before becoming head of disease control in 1953. He retired from that job in 1976.

Dr. Pate was a founding member of the American Association of Public Health Physicians and a member of the D.C. Academy of Medicine and the American Medical Association. He also had served on the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America and was a past board member of the President's Commission for the Handicapped.

He was a past president of the D.C. Civitan Club, a past president of Civitan International, and a past governor of the Civitan's Chesapeake District. He was a Mason and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. He also was a member of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Arlington, where he had been a vestryman and superintendent of the church school.

Survivors include his wife, Dr. Alice Chenoweth Pate, of Arlington; a son, John R. Jr., of Caracas, Venezuela; two brothers, Dr. Charles V., of Baltimore and Dove H., of Charleston; and one grandchild.