James R. Frith, 86, retired dean of the School of Language Studies at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute, died of cancer and pneumonia Aug. 19 at his Montreat, N.C., home. He also lived in Bentonville, Va.

Dr. Frith, who started his working life as a high school Latin teacher, led the Washington-based school from 1959 to 1981, when he retired. The school teaches government diplomats and foreign affairs staffers more than 70 languages. While Dr. Frith was dean, language specialists wrote more than 40 language textbooks for diplomats.

He was one of the four founders of the Federal Interagency Language Roundtable, an unfunded interagency organization that shares information about language-related activities.

He also helped establish the foreign language training program for the Air Force from 1950 to 1957. He then was director of the Foreign Service French Language Training School in Nice, France, from 1957 to 1959.

Dr. Frith was born in Galeton, Pa., and graduated from Bucknell University in 1939 with a bachelor's degree in French and a master's degree in Latin. He received a doctorate in linguistics from Cornell University in 1950.

From 1939 to 1941, he taught high school Latin in Danville, Pa. In preparation for joining the Navy, he tutored the son of a flight training instructor in a variety of subjects in exchange for flying lessons.

He entered the Navy as a pilot in June 1941 and flew dive bombers. He was a squadron commander in the South Pacific, twice receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, once for leading his squadron on "a long and circuitous route through intense and withering anti-aircraft fire" to bomb an aircraft factory in Tokyo.

On other missions, he participated in the rescue of a prisoner of war from behind enemy lines on Okinawa. In the first Navy aircraft carrier-based raid on Tokyo, after his plane was hit with enemy fire, he remained behind and circled for an hour to help guide a rescue plane to a downed pilot in Japan's Inland Sea. He left the Navy as a lieutenant commander in 1947.

Since 1967, Dr. Frith owned and operated Skyline Evergreen Farm, where he raised Christmas trees and evergreens. He was a member of the Shenandoah Growers Association and the Beautification of Front Royal Committee. He was on the board of the Front Royal Cardinals baseball team.

He served on the Board of Stewards at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington County and later was a member of Front Royal United Methodist Church. For the past five years, he was master-at-arms of the Front Royal Rotary Club.

His youngest son, Robert Ward Frith, died in 1985.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Catherine Roddey Jones Frith of Bentonville; seven children, Dr. Catherine Moffett of Richmond, Eleanor Peters of New York City, Dr. Martha Palm of Novato, Calif., Jane Warner of Altadena, Calif., Nancy Hullinger of Broken Arrow, Okla., Rebecca Garrity of Charlottesville and James Robert Frith Jr. of Montreat; a brother, Raymond John Frith of Springfield; 18 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.