OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ John F. Merriam, who headed the former Northern Natural Gas Co. of Omaha during a period of rapid gas-line expansion, died after suffering a stroke. He was 84.

Merriam, who had been hospitalized in Kentfield, Calif., since June, died Tuesday, according to his son, J. Alec Merriam of Tiburon, Calif.

Merriam retired in 1966, and he and wife, Lucy, moved to San Francisco in 1972.

Merriam joined Northern Natural Gas in 1930 as a $200-a-month clerk. He became president in 1950 at age 46 and was chairman and chief executive officer when he retired. He remained on Northern's board of directors until 1975.

Northern Natural Gas became InterNorth Inc. and then Enron Corp. The company has moved its home office from Omaha to Houston.