Mary Fran Carroll | 1922-2014 Pioneering CEO who led development of Lakewood Ranch, dies at 92

jajones1@bradenton.comMarch 29, 2014 

Mary Fran Carroll, former chief executive officer of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch who launched the development of Lakewood Ranch in the early 1980s, has died at age 92.

Ms. Carroll said the spark that lit the fuse for Lakewood Ranch, even before the first house was built, was the Sarasota Polo Club, which opened in 1991.

"We figured it would be useful when we did real estate. Anyone could live on a golf course, but hardly anyone could live up the street from a polo club," Ms. Carroll said in 2010.

"We thought it added a kicker to the mystique. In the end, it was worth a gazillion dollars worth of advertising.

"Many more people came out to watch polo and discovered not only that they didn't fall off the face of the earth, but that it would be all right to live out here."

In the early 1980s, the Uihlein family and other shareholders of SMR asked Ms. Carroll, then with Northern Trust Bank in Chicago, to sit on the SMR board and help guide it. She moved to the Bradenton-Sarasota area in 1986.

"I realized that growth was coming," Carroll told the Herald. "River Club was a reality, and Palm-Aire was coming along. I felt we would be failing stockholders in enhancing the value of their asset if we didn't plan on some residential and commercial development."

The two men who followed Ms. Carroll as chief executives at SMR, John Clarke and Rex Jensen, remembered her fondly Friday.

"She could walk in many different worlds," Clarke recalled. "She could go to a chamber of commerce meeting dressed as a banker, or put on her cowboy boots and visit the cattle operation."

Jensen called her the classic city girl who came to the country.

Ms. Carroll was also comfortable walking before county commissions, seeking approval to build east of Interstate 75.

"Mary Fran was a tremendous character," Clarke told the Herald, recalling that she wore a purple dress when seeking approvals in Sarasota for building the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park.

The park, the largest in the Manatee-Sarasota area, led to the creation of thousands of jobs at Lakewood Ranch.

Jensen called Ms. Carroll a "force of nature."

She was very direct, upfront, and knew how to instill values in an organization.

"She prepared the community for what could happen, particularly in Sarasota," Jensen said.

"She helped get the camel's nose under the tent. She got them to at least accept the business employment center we have. Her fingerprints are all over the place."

Ms. Carroll passed away March 24, 2014, at her Palmer Ranch home in Sarasota.

She was born Jan. 24, 1922, in Chicago, the only child of Thomas F. and Nelly Noonan Carroll.

Ms. Carroll graduated from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management with a master's degree in 1943. She traveled in Europe after World War II, and joined Northern Trust's Family Business Division in 1967. At her retirement from Northern Trust in 1984, she was serving as vice president and division head.

Over the next 13 years, she spearheaded the expansion of Lakewood Ranch beyond its traditional cattle ranching, mining and farming operations into an award-winning master planned community before retiring in 1997.

After her retirement from SMR, she became active in the development of Glenridge at Palmer Ranch, serving as its first chair. Ms. Carroll also served on boards for the Sarasota Community Foundation, the Argus Foundation, Lighthouse for the Blind and Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Ms. Carroll is survived by many friends and her cat Zoro.

Mass will be held at St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, 2506 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota, 9:30 a.m. April 2.

A reception will be held 4 p.m. April 2 at the Glenridge on Palmer Ranch, 7333 Scotland Way, Sarasota. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Sarasota Community Foundation.

Jennings Funeral Home and Crematory is in charge of arrangements.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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