Ellen Zinsser McCloy, 87, an activist in volunteer and civic organizations who accompanied her husband, John J. McCloy, while he served in high government posts in this country and abroad, died April 6 at a hospital in Greenwich, Conn. She had Parkinson's disease.

From 1949 to 1952, Mrs. McCloy lived in West Germany, where Mr. McCloy was U.S. high commissioner. She was fluent in German and took an active interest in the problems facing German women and children. She spoke at youth forums and was active in welfare work, and helped organize the dispatch of food parcels to East Germany.

For her work during those years, she was awarded the Order of Merit of the West German Red Cross. As an indication of the esteem in which she was held, she was given the Federal Republic's Commander's Cross for Distinguished Service in 1977.

During World War II, while her husband was serving in Washington as an assistant secretary of war, Mrs. McCloy was active in volunteer nursing programs. She spent mornings as a volunteer obstetrics nurse helping the wives and infants of sailors serving overseas. With overcrowded hospitals and the shortage of physicians, nurses and other staff, it fell to volunteers such as Mrs. McCloy to help care for the babies and do laundry.

For these efforts Mrs. McCloy received an award from the Navy Department.

A resident of Stamford, Conn., Mrs. McCloy was born in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. She was a 1918 graduate of Smith College, from which she received an honorary doctorate of laws in 1953 and where she served on the board of trustees.

She was a principal supporter of the Outward Bound program and was a 1985 recipient of its Kurt Hahn Award. She served as board chairman of both the New York chapter of the Girls Clubs of America and the Bellevue Hospital nursing school in New York City. She was a member of the board of directors of the New York chapter of the American Red Cross.

In addition to her husband, whom she married on April 25, 1930, and who lives in Stamford, Mrs. McCloy's survivors include a son, John J. McCloy II of Greenwich; a daughter, Ellen Z. McCloy of New York City; a sister, Peggy Z. Douglas of Tucson, Ariz., and two grandchildren.