John R. Fernstrom Sr., 79, who spent about seven years at the Agriculture Department and retired in 1984 as director of rural economic development programs, died Nov. 30 at Elizabeth Adam Crump Manor Nursing Home in Glen Allen, Va. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Fernstrom came to the Washington area in 1950 and spent nine years as an assistant geography professor at Georgetown University.

He worked at the Commerce Department from 1958 until the mid-1960s as the director of economic development for depressed regions in Appalachia.

At the Interior Department for the next decade, he oversaw industrial development on Native American reservations.

Mr. Fernstrom was born in Vallejo, Calif., and served in the Army Air Corps during World War II in Europe and North Africa. He received the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.

He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in geography.

In 1956, Mr. Fernstrom received a master's degree in economic geography from the University of Maryland.

Mr. Fernstrom wrote two books in the 1970s, "Bringing in the Sheaves" and "Industrial Geography."

His hobbies included woodworking.

His wife, Jean D. Fernstrom, died in 1992.

Survivors include a son, John Fernstrom Jr. of Alexandria; two daughters, Marcia Fernstrom Hill of Ashland, Va., and Suzanne Fernstrom Allan of Suffolk, Va.; and three grandchildren.