William R. Peterson, 47, a reporter on the national staff of The Washington Post who had been the newspaper's Chicago correspondent since 1987, died of cancer yesterday at Georgetown University Hospital.

Mr. Peterson joined The Post in 1975. Whether he was writing about politics, which was his main subject, or poverty in the Third World or small towns in the Midwest or some subject that just caught his attention in passing, his chief interest was how things worked and how people lived -- how the different parts of the world were related to the whole.

In announcing his death to the staff, Managing Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said, "Behind his uncommonly graceful writing style and engaging professional manner was a hard-digging reporter and sharp analytical mind, all of which we will miss. But, most of all, we will miss one of the nicest guys anyone had ever met in this business."

Characteristic of Mr. Peterson's work was his account, in the spring of 1980, of the end of George Bush's two-year quest for the Republican presidential nomination, when Bush conceded to Ronald Reagan:

"He was the comeback candidate. No one took more beatings. No one went to the mat more often. No one bounced back with more tenacity and grace. Even in the end, he didn't want to quit. He agonized over it for days. But finally, he accepted what the numbers told him -- that he was finished . . . .

"Always there were those who doubted his motives. First he was accused of being a stalking horse among moderates for former president Gerald R. Ford. Then he was accused of being interested only in the vice presidency. Bush steadfastly denied interest in the vice presidency and repeated it yesterday in his press conference. But his name can be expected to be more frequently mentioned as a possible Reagan running mate."

Mr. Peterson's coverage of the 1986 Florida campaign between Gov. Bob Graham (D) and Sen. Paula Hawkins (R) for the U.S. Senate was an important examination of politics of the 1980s and perhaps of the 1990s. What emerged was a profile of the politics of image, in which the determining factors are the 30-second television spots, sound bites, media consultants and enormous sums of money, and in which constituents almost never speak to candidates, except through polls, and in which substantive issues often seem to be ignored.

In January 1988, Mr. Peterson reported from Osakis, Minn., a town 120 miles northwest of Minneapolis, where the prairie meets the lake country, and where he had grown up:

"Jesse Jackson came to my hometown yesterday. It was, Mayor C.J. Moore proclaimed, 'the biggest thing that had ever happened' in this snow-covered town of 1,326. No one knew what to expect. A presidential candidate had never visited Osakis (pronounced O-say-kiss) before, and the last time some residents saw a famous black man up close was in 1963 when the 'Inkspots' performed at the local high school.

"But this resort and farming town went wild over Jackson. The Community Center was filled to its capacity of 310 a full hour before Jackson arrived . . . . The Republicans jostled with Democrats when {Jackson} arrived in the 8-degree-below weather . . . . And insurance agent Mike Mathews placed his son Steve -- wearing heavy leg braces -- in the front row at the Community Center. He beamed when Jackson embraced the boy."

In 1978, Mr. Peterson traveled for two months in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Guatemala and Tanzania to report on poverty in the Third World. He had never before been outside the United States, and this seemed to give a special freshness to his observations of the disadvantaged who make up "The Global Majority," the title of the articles he wrote.

Mr. Peterson was born on April 24, 1943, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul in 1965. He studied at American University, and in 1967 received a masters' degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

He then joined the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he covered politics. He also wrote a book, "Coaltown Revisited: An Appalachian Notebook" (1972).

At The Post, he began as a reporter on the Metro weekly staff and then covered Maryland. He joined the national reporting staff in June 1977.

Throughout his career, Mr. Peterson enjoyed writing topical pieces just because they were interesting, and his assignment in Chicago provided many opportunities for this kind of story.

So he reported on the introduction of riverboat gambling in Iowa, a radical departure dictated by the lagging economy in that normally strait-laced state; about a French restaurant and bowling alley in the farming community of Arcola, Ill., where some people go for the food and not the bowling, some people go for the bowling and not the food, and some people go for both.

Mr. Peterson was found to have lung cancer in the autumn of 1988. In March, just before undergoing surgery, he told a colleague that if he did not survive the procedure he wished it to be noted that his last story, a profile on Rep. Gus Savage, a Chicago Democrat, had appeared on Page 1 of that day's Post. In fact, his last story, about Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, appeared last month.

Mr. Peterson lived in Chicago and flew to Washington Monday to see friends and colleagues. He also had a home in Alexandria.

Survivors include his wife, Linda Peterson of Chicago; two sons, Chad Peterson of Washington and Mark Peterson of Chicago; his mother, Jeanette Susens of Osakis; three brothers, Kenneth, Michael and Timothy Peterson, all of St. Paul; and a sister, Helen Ann Wagner of Alexandria, Minn.

THOMAS W. SIMONS

Foreign Service Officer

Thomas W. Simons, 87, a retired Foreign Service officer, died of pneumonia July 18 at his home in Washington.

Dr. Simons was born in St. Paul, Minn. He graduated from the State Teachers College at St. Cloud and received a master's degree and a doctorate in history from the University of Colorado.

He was a dean of junior colleges in Tracy and Crosby, Minn., and a youth training specialist for the state of Minnesota before joining the State Department in Washington in 1945.

He served as senior economic analyst in Calcutta, as an attache at the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, as a Pakistan and Morocco desk officer in Washington, as deputy chief of mission in Monrovia, Liberia, and as consul general in Madras, India, before retiring from the Foreign Service in 1963.

Dr. Simons then taught for two years at Michigan State University, and served four years as resident director in India of the American Institute of Indian Studies, an organization that sponsors Americans in postgraduate studies in India.

He returned to Washington and settled here in 1969.

He was a member of Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired (DACOR), Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, the Asia Society and the American Foreign Service Association.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Mary Jo Simons of Washington; two children, Sara R. Cohen of Philadelphia and Dr. Thomas W. Simons Jr., the U.S. ambassador designate to Poland, of Providence, R.I.; two sisters, Julia Westling of Las Vegas and Irene Allen of Greenbush, Minn.; and four grandchildren.

JULIAN W. STEVENS

Agriculture Department Official

Julian Whitaker Stevens, 94, an employee at the Department of Agriculture for 60 years before retiring in 1972 as a purchasing director, died of cancer July 17 at his home in Silver Spring.

Mr. Stevens was a Washington native and a graduate of the old Washington Business College. He joined Agriculture in 1912 as a clerk. During World War I, he served in the Army.

He was a member of the Anacostia Masonic Lodge in Washington.

His wife of 66 years, Elsie Louise Stevens, died in 1987. Survivors include a daughter, Elsie Stevens Harmon of Silver Spring; a sister, Dorothy Stevens of Daytona Beach, Fla.; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

SYLVINO A. SUARES

Chief Engineer

Sylvino A. Suares, 62, retired chief engineer for the city of Alexandria, died of cancer July 17 at Northern Virginia Doctors Hospital.

Mr. Suares, who lived in Alexandria, was born in Ludlow, Mass. He served in the Navy during World War II.

He came here 40 years ago and managed a trailer park before going to work for Alexandria 28 years ago. As chief engineer he was responsible for heating and air conditioning in all public buildings. He retired in February.

Survivors include his wife, Mid Suares of Alexandria, and a daughter, Linda Dermody of Springfield.