Robert A. Bowerman, 86, a former advertising director of The Washington Post who retired in the mid-1970s as vice president of the Kal, Merrick and Salen advertising firm, died of cancer Dec. 20 at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham. He lived in Annapolis.

Mr. Bowerman, the newspaper's advertising director in the 1960s, was a native of Newark. He was a graduate of Packard Business School in New York.

In the 1930s, he worked for the advertising department of L. Bamberger & Co. department store in Newark. He also was a band leader in metropolitan New York.

He served in the Navy in Italy during World War II and then returned to Bamberger to become the advertising manager. He later worked for the New York World Telegram & Sun as retail advertising sales manager. He moved to Washington in 1956 to join The Post's advertising staff.

He became a Kal, Merrick and Salen executive in 1970.

Mr. Bowerman was president of the Advertising Club of Washington and received its lifetime achievement award. He was a member of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, Newspaper Advertising Executives Association, Catholic Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Kenwood Golf and Country Club and the National Communications Club. His interests included carving decoys and assembling model sailboats.

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Bette Burke Bowerman of Annapolis; seven children, Robert Stacy Bowerman of Hamden, Conn., Patricia Bowerman Harris of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., Elizabeth Bowerman Liberatore of Charleston, W.Va., Gregory Bowerman of Atlanta, John Scott Bowerman of New Richmond, Wis., Kim Bowerman Bryant of Millersville, Md., and Victoria Bowerman of Silver Spring; two brothers; 14 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.