Pete Axthelm, one of the nation's most acclaimed sports columnists and one of the few who made a successful transition to network television, died yesterday at Pittsburgh's Presbyterian Hospital of liver failure. He was 47.

Mr. Axthelm, who had residences in New York City and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was awaiting a liver transplant at the time of his death. He had been suffering from acute hepatitis.

Mr. Axthelm, who had written a professional football betting column intermittently for The Washington Post, made his reputation as a print journalist at Newsweek magazine, where he was sports editor, a contributing editor and a columnist during a 20-year career. He began working for NBC Sports in 1980 and joined the ESPN sports cable network in 1987.

"Pete Axthelm was a great sportswriter," said George Solomon, The Washington Post's assistant managing editor for sports. "He gave tremendous stature to the profession and was a master writer. I thought he knew the games as well as any sports journalist in the country. He will be missed by our business, as well as this newspaper."

His favorite sports were professional football and horse racing, and he was a television commentator for both. A gambler, he shared his football betting opinions with viewers on both NBC and ESPN until the National Football League imposed a restriction banning such prognosticating from pre-game shows.

Mr. Axthelm proved versatile and adept in many journalistic endeavors. He won national journalism awards for his reporting about women and the field of justice as well as for his sports coverage.

"I've known him for 17 years, and he was the most talented, insightful columnist in the modern era of sportswriting," said John Walsh, managing editor of ESPN's Sports Center.

"His talent reached well beyond the print media," Walsh said. "He was able to use his insight and his wit and all the best qualities of journalism in the television medium."

Mr. Axthelm graduated from Yale University in 1965, and began his career as a horse-racing writer and columnist for the New York Herald-Tribune. He then became a staff writer at Sports Illustrated before joining Newsweek in 1968.

He remained there until 1988, when he joined People magazine as a staff writer. He stayed there only a year, but by then was entrenched as a television commentator. He won an Eclipse Award in 1984 for his coverage of the first Breeders Cup, a multimillion-dollar championship ending to the thoroughbred racing season.

In addition to the Eclipse Award, Mr. Axthelm also won two Page One awards from the New York Newspaper Guild, a Penney-Missouri Award for journalism about women, a National Headliners award for consistently outstanding columns, a Schick Award for professional football writing and a Silver Gavel award from the American Bar Association for reporting in the field of justice.

He is survived by his wife, Andrea, and a daughter, Megan.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.


Assistant Surgeon General

Donald Joseph Galagan, 76, a consultant who was a retired Public Health Service assistant surgeon general and former dental school dean, died Jan. 30 at Washington Hospital Center after surgery for a heart ailment. He lived in Annapolis.

Dr. Galagan worked for the Public Health Service from 1937 until retiring in 1965. He served in California, Florida, the Midwest and, from 1953 to 1965, in Washington. Before retiring, he became assistant surgeon general and spent five years as director of the health service's dental public health division.

His research included work on the effectiveness of sodium fluoride and techniques for applying fluorides in practical dental use. His awards included the health service's Meritorious Service Medal. He also held the Fauchard Gold Medal of the Pierre Fauchard Academy, a professional group.

He was dean of the University of Iowa's dental school from 1966 to 1974. Since then, he had been a dental health consultant. He lived in Arkansas and Florida before moving to Annapolis in 1986.

He was a past president of the American Fund for Dental Health and the American Board of Dental Public Health. He was a past executive director of the American Association of Dental Schools. He also was a member of the National Academy of Sciences' institute of medicine and had served on the World Health Organization's expert committee on dental health.

He had been a member of the board of directors of the Heritage Harbor Health Group in Annapolis.

Dr. Galagan was a native of Iowa and served with the Navy in the Atlantic during World War II. He was a graduate of the University of Iowa and its dental school, and received a master's degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley.

Survivors include his wife, the former Dorothea Streib, of Annapolis; a son, Christopher William Galagan of Rhode Island; two daughters, Patricia Ann Galagan of Reston and Sheila Mary Galagan of Washington; and five grandchildren.


Obstetrician and Gynecologist

Stafford W. Hawken, 83, a Washington obstetrician and gynecologist for 54 years before retiring in 1985, died Feb. 2 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had emphysema.

In addition to his private practice, he had been chief of staff of Columbia Hospital for Women in the early 1960s. He also had served on the hospital's board. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Hawken was a native and resident of Washington and a graduate of the old Western High School. He was a graduate of Georgetown University and its medical school. He served residencies in obstetrics and gynecology at both Providence Hospital and Columbia Hospital for Women here. During World War II, he served with the Navy in the Pacific.

He was a member of the University and Columbia country clubs.

Survivors include his wife, Grace B., of Washington; a son, Samuel McComas Hawken of Fairfax; two daughters, Wenell Hawken of Leesburg and Victoria H. Jackson of Atlanta; and seven grandchildren.


Secretary and Volunteer

Helen H. Keely, 92, a retired government secretary and past president of Lyon Village Woman's Club in Arlington, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 1 at her home in Arlington.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she had served as an Arlington troop leader with both the Girl Scouts and Brownies. She was a member of Community Methodist Church in Arlington and had done volunteer work during the years for several groups.

Mrs. Keely was a native of Washington and graduate of the old Business High School. She began her government career with the War Department during World War I and later transferred to the Veterans Administration. She retired from the VA in 1938.

Her husband, William, died in 1972. Survivors include a daughter, Helen Rowan of Miami; a sister, Ruth Haines of Arlington; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.