Ruth Waters-Meads, 86, a writer and an editor for more than 60 years whose work ranged from Army manuals to feature stories for the biggest U.S. newspapers, died of a heart attack Sept. 2 at her home in Fairfax.

Mrs. Waters-Meads, a native of Okemah, Okla., was taught to read and write by her mother. As a teenager, she wrote an article for her local paper about the need for a new junior high school; the school bond issue passed by a wide majority, and her teachers told her she had a talent for writing.

She worked her way through the University of Oklahoma by writing columns and feature stories for her hometown newspaper and by modeling dresses on weekends for an Oklahoma City department store. She graduated in 1941 and began working for the Oklahoma City Times.

A telegram arrived Dec. 7, 1941, offering her a job as press secretary for Gen. H.H. "Hap" Arnold of the Army Air Forces. She immediately moved to Washington, where, she later recalled, "soldiers stood sentry at the bridge crossing the Potomac, and their bonfires lit up the night. The brilliantly lighted Capitol Dome loomed in the near distance, symbolically shining as the world's last hope of freedom."

Mrs. Waters-Meads worked for the Army, Air Force and Navy on and off from December 1941 to February 1980, when she retired after 25 years of federal government service. She wrote recruiting commercials for the armed forces and edited newsletters, brochures, technical manuals and manuscripts. To train editors, she wrote a book, "An Editorial Guide for Publications."

She also researched, wrote, edited and designed the monthly Retired Army Personnel Bulletin. Her work prompted a flood of mail from some of the million military retirees who received it, including one from President Harry S. Truman.

While living in Japan from 1964 to 1965, she wrote psychological warfare propaganda addressed to communist audiences. Her scripts for weekly radio dramas were translated into five or six languages. While living in Germany from 1968 to 1971 as editor for the NATO forces, she wrote two Government Printing Office books, "Assignment Darmstadt" and "The Printer Devil."

In 1962, she received a master's degree in public relations from American University and did work toward a doctorate. She freelanced for The Washington Post, Miami newspapers, major news wires and Stars & Stripes. She also ghost-wrote speeches and articles.

She reflected that she was able to make her childhood dreams come true, dreams of "riding in a rickshaw in Hong Kong, of mounting a camel in the shade of the pyramids, of eating hot roasted chestnuts outside Notre Dame Cathedral, and tossing the hulls into the Seine River."

She was an associate member of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts, a member of the American Antique Arts Association, Toastmasters International, the National Trust for Historical Preservation, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National World War II Memorial and the Smithsonian Institution. She was inducted into the Okemah Hall of Fame in 1991.

Her marriage to Tom Boen ended in divorce.

Survivors include her husband of 40 years, Francis M. Meads of Fairfax; a daughter from her first marriage, Barbara Boen Lineberry of Tallahassee; a brother, Johnnie Mac Waters of Falls Church; and two grandsons.