PORTSMOUTH, VA. -- Lawrence W. I'Anson, 83, former chief justice of Virginia and principal advocate of several key judicial reforms in the commonwealth, died Dec. 17 at a hospital here. The cause of death was not reported.

Judge I'Anson retired in 1981 after 23 years on Virginia's Supreme Court, including six as the state's 22nd chief justice.

At the age of 34, he became one of the youngest jurists to sit on a court of record in the state. His 17-year tenure on Portsmouth Hustings Court, which began in 1941, was marked by only two reversals. Before joining the state's high court, he was appointed to the state Supreme Court of Appeals in August 1958.

For three years, as head of the so-called I'Anson Commission, he advocated reforms that in 1973 led to a reorganization of state courts into three tiers, ridding the system of part-time justices of the peace.

He also championed a recommendation to create an intermediate Court of Appeals, a step that was not taken until after his retirement.

Judge I'Anson was a native of Portsmouth. He was a 1928 graduate of the College of William and Mary and was a 1931 graduate of the University of Virginia law school.

He helped found the National Center for State Courts in 1971. He was a former president of the center, now in Williamsburg, and served as chairman of the National Conference of Chief Justices.

His wife of 46 years, Frances Tuttle I'Anson, died in 1979. Survivors include two children.