George E. Reedy, 81, the patient and thoughtful former reporter who became President Lyndon B. Johnson's press secretary during critical months of 1964 and 1965, enduring with good grace the conflicting demands of his boss and the news media, died March 21 at a nursing home in Milwaukee.

Mr. Reedy, a close student of government who had taught at Marquette University in Milwaukee for many years, had undergone surgery three weeks ago for an intestinal blockage.

He had replaced Pierre Salinger in March 1964 as the buffer between the mercurial and tempestuous Johnson and the reporters who covered him.

Mr. Reedy, in his turn, was replaced by Bill Moyers in July 1965, when he took what was announced as medical leave for surgery on a painful foot condition. (Johnson's habit of holding informal news conferences while walking about the White House grounds had been cited as exacerbating the condition.)

More recently it has been reported that Mr. Reedy's disagreement with Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War may have played a key role in his departure.

However, his son Michael said last night that he did not believe this was so.

The day after it was announced that Mr. Reedy was leaving, The Washington Post praised him in an editorial as a "loyal, faithful and uncomplaining servant who has done his best to serve both the President and the press" in what it described as one of the most demanding jobs in government.

Always difficult, the editorial went on, the press secretary job posed unprecedented difficulties under Johnson. It called the president an insistent and exacting taskmaster who expected from his spokesman "a great deal more than it is humanly possible for any official to deliver."

Indeed, the editorial said, the genial, pipe-puffing Mr. Reedy was required to withstand the reproaches of reporters for not providing information he did not have, while at the same time being chided by his boss for what reporters wrote as well as for what they failed to write.

In 1982, Mr. Reedy published a memoir about Johnson, whom he had served for a total of almost two decades. The book departed from the reticence for which he had been known. It addressed, among other things, the question of why Mr. Reedy and other aides remained with Johnson, despite the many failings they recognized in him.

The question, Mr. Reedy wrote, was one "I cannot answer to this day. It had something to do with a feeling that he was a truly great man and that we owed it to the country to put up with his rampages so he would be there when he was needed."

On recently released White House recordings, Johnson is heard chiding Mr. Reedy for his lack of sartorial elegance, complaining that his rumpled attire made him look like a reporter.

Mr. Reedy, the son of a newspaperman father, was born in East Chicago, Ind., Aug. 5, 1917, and was recognized as a particularly bright child. He was one of the first graduates of a program for gifted pupils operated by the University of Chicago.

He received a degree from Chicago in anthropology and sociology and, after a few weeks at the Philadelphia Inquirer, joined the old United Press news wire service.

Assigned to Capitol Hill and the U.S. Senate, Mr. Reedy established himself as a talented reporter in the period before World War II. During the war, he served in the Pacific theater in Army Air Corps intelligence.

After leaving the service as a captain, he returned to the Hill, where among the matters he covered were hearings held by a preparedness subcommittee headed by then-Sen. Johnson (D-Tex.).

When Mr. Reedy became press secretary years later, reporters searched out and described as prophetic a story Mr. Reedy had written in 1951. It began: "A tall, fast-talking Texan who believes that `Politics is the science of the possible' has stepped into the Front Rank of the Democratic Party.

"He is Lyndon B. Johnson, who, after three years in the Senate . . . is being mentioned for higher jobs."

Later in the year that story was written, Mr. Reedy went to work for Johnson. Known as erudite, philosophical and intensely loyal, he was a key staff member through the years of Johnson's ascent first to the vice presidency and then to the White House.

After leaving in 1965 for the surgery on his hammertoes, Mr. Reedy later returned to the White House for another staff job.

Subsequently he held a job as a corporate executive for two years, served on many advisory boards and commissions, lectured and wrote (producing newspaper columns, book reviews and seven books).

He joined the Marquette faculty in 1971 and was dean of the college of journalism from 1972 to 1976. He retired from full-time teaching in 1990, becoming emeritus professor the next year.

His first wife, Lillian, a former reporter herself, died in 1984. In addition to Michael, survivors include his wife, Ruth, and another son, William, both from Mr. Reedy's first marriage.

CAPTION: George E. Reedy was press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson from March 1964 to July 1965, after Pierre Salinger and before Bill Moyers.