TORONTO -- Margaret Laurence, 60, the Canadian short story writer and novelist who had been a dominant influence on her nation's literature for a quarter of a century, died of cancer Jan. 5 at her home in Lakefield, Ontario.

Mrs. Laurence was one of a handful of contemporary Canadian women writers with international reputations. Her novels feature strongly etched heroines and explore themes such as freedom and responsibility.

She was stung by controversy over her last novel, "The Diviners," which was published in 1974. Since then, she produced three children's books and had campaigned for nuclear disarmament.

"The Stone Angel," published in 1964, was the first in a cycle of five works called the "Manawaka novels," taking their name from a fictional town in Manitoba based on her birthplace. The novel tells of a proud 90-year-old woman, Hagar Shipley, who clings to life.

"A Jest of God," "The Fire-Dwellers," "A Bird in the House" and "The Diviners" followed and received critical acclaim. However, some school boards in Canada banned "The Diviners" as too sexually explicit.

"I was desperately hurt," the author said in a 1984 interview. "I thought I'd get back at them in a novel. But after two years of mulling it over, I realized you don't write fiction to get back at somebody. It was a lousy idea."

A large woman with strong features and straight black hair, she was born Jean Margaret Wemys in the prairie town of Neepawa, Manitoba. Her parents died when she was young and Laurence was reared by an aunt. She decided as a child to become a writer and contributed to school magazines. She earned a degree in English at United College in Winnipeg, Manitoba before becoming a reporter with the Winnipeg Citizen.

In 1947, she married Jack Laurence, a civil engineer, and two years later the couple moved to England. They then lived for short time in what is now Somalia, then moved to Ghana where they lived until 1957. Her African experiences provided material for many of Mrs. Laurence's works, including a travel book, novel and several short stories.

The Laurences had two children, Jocelyn and David, before returning to Canada to live in Vancouver from 1957 to 1962. The couple separated in 1962 and divorced seven years later. Mrs. Laurence returned to England with her children in the early 1960s, and wrote the first three of her Manawaka novels there.

She had lived in Ontario since returning from England in 1969. Mrs. Laurence had been a writer in residence at three Ontario universities and was chancellor of Trent University in Peterborough.

"A Jest of God" was made into the film "Rachel, Rachel." Her first work, "A Tree for Poverty," was published in 1954 by the then-British protectorate of Somaliland. The work contained translations of Somali folk tales and poetry.

CHARLES F. JAMES, 67, who retired in 1981 as corporate secretary and associate general counsel of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), died Jan. 5 at Suburban Hospital. He had cancer.

Mr. James came to the Washington area in 1954. He practiced law in the Bethesda and spent a year as an attorney-adviser with the U.S. Tax Court before joining Fannie Mae in 1961.

He was a member of the American, Maryland and D.C. bar associations, the American Society of Corporate Secretaries, and the Stock Transfer Association. He was a past vice president of the Alta Vista-Wyngate Citizens Association and had been an officer of the Wyngate PTA. He was a past president of the Rockville Little Theater. In 1960, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Montgomery County School Board.

Mr. James, who lived in Potomac, was born in Fayetteville, N.C. He was a 1948 graduate of Colorado College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and banking. He earned a law degree at the University of Colorado. He was a Navy pilot during World War II and was a pilot and law specialist during his second Navy tour, from 1953 to 1957.

Survivors include his wife, Bette, whom he married in 1943 and who lives in Potomac, and a son, Charles F. II, of Alexandria.

JULIA D. TOBIAS, 100, a retired Washington public school teacher and tutor, died of a heart ailment Jan. 4 at the home of her daughter, Marjorie T. Bralove, in Potomac.

Mrs. Tobias, a longtime resident of Chevy Chase, was born in Chicago and raised in New York. She was a 1905 graduate of Hunter College and she taught school in New York and Philadelphia before moving to Washington in 1936. During World War II she taught at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington and later worked as a visiting teacher for children who could not attend school because of handicaps or illnesses.

She retired from teaching in the early 1950s and moved to New York, returning here in 1956 after the death of her husband, Herrmann B. Tobias. For several years after that she worked as a tutor.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Tobias is survived by two granddaughters.

ESTHER KREWSON GROVE, 77, a former government secretary and statistical worker who was a member of the Unitarian Church of Arlington, died of respiratory failure Dec. 31 at Northern Virginia Doctors Hospital. She lived in Arlington.

She worked for the Agriculture Department from 1935 to 1942, then spent six years with the Army before retiring in 1948. Mrs. Grove, who moved here in 1935, was a native of Elm Creek, Neb. She was a graduate of Nebraska State Teachers College.

She was a member of the Arlington County PTA and the Citizens Committee for School Improvement.

Her husband, Ernest Wilson Grove, died in 1984. Survivors include a son, Daniel E., of Reston; a daughter, Kathryn F. Grove of Iowa City, Iowa, and two grandchildren.

MARY SMITH (MEI-MEI) LEE, 64, who had been a real estate agent with the Frank S. Phillips real estate company in Bethesda for the past 18 years, died Jan. 5 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. She had cancer.

Mrs. Lee was a District resident who had lived in this area since about 1950. She was born in China, where her parents were Baptist missionaries, and grew up in Owensboro, Ky. She was a graduate of Stephens College in Missouri.

Her husband, Delvert L. Lee, died in 1973. Survivors include three sons, Delvert, of Owensboro, and Bruce and Jaime, both of Washington; a daughter, Susan Lee Delwich of Wisconsin, and two grandchildren.