Royal died Nov. 26 after an illness, surrounded by family. He was 85.
Construction executive Jack Cox approached Ron Royal at an Argus Foundation event in fall 2014, minutes before Royal received the organization's most prestigious honor — its lifetime achievement award.
“I told him congratulations, and that I was so happy for him,” says Cox, president of Sarasota-based Halfacre Construction, who first met Royal in 1982. “And he looked right at me and immediately said, 'You'll be here one day, Jack.' He spun it on me, not on himself.”
That was classic Royal, say several friends and colleagues. They describe Royal as selfless gentleman, who lived large and gave, of his time and money, even larger. Royal died Nov. 26 after an illness, surrounded by family. He was 85.
“Even though he was retired for several years, he remained fully active and involved in what we were doing, including helping us with our strategic plan,” says Christine Robinson, executive director of the Sarasota-based Argus Foundation, one of the many groups Royal chaired or worked with in some capacity. “He was still doing things and living life to the fullest.”
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Royal played high school football and was class president several times, according to his obituary. He later served in the U.S. Coast Guard and studied civil engineering at Youngstown State University. Royal started his construction career in Sarasota in 1962, working for several companies before he launched his own business, Ron A. Royal Inc., a general contracting firm, in 1971.
Royal grew that business to more than 300 employees over the next 20 years. Projects the firm worked on include a 108,000-square-foot office complex that's now the Sarasota County School Board headquarters; a conversion of a hotel to what's now the Sarasota County office building; and multiple retail and commercial complexes in the region, including the Met on St. Armands Circle.
Cox and Sarasota developer Tom Dabney say any building Royal built is like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Dabney, who was a client and also worked for Royal for two years, overseeing operations, says the standout business lesson he learned from Royal was quality always matters. “There are never any reasons to do short cuts or cut corners,” was a Royal motto, says Dabney. “There was a right way to do something, and that's the way Ron did it every time.”
The list of boards, businesses and groups Royal supported, through the board, time, money and all three, is a star-studded list. It includes the Sarasota County Chamber Commerce; the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange; the Suncoast Construction Industry Council; the Sarasota Boys Club, American Bank; Ellis Bank; Sarasota Bank and Trust; SunTrust Bank; and the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Foundation, among may others. Another Royal passion: the Field Club in Sarasota, where he often played tennis and was a commodore.
Dabney, who visited Royal 10 days before he died, says his friend also doted on his wife of 59 years, Marilyn, and the Royals' five daughters and sons-in-law. The family often took RV camper trips when the girls were younger, and spent many days on the family boat, the Royal Flush. Ron and Marilyn Royal lived on that boat for three years, going between Sarasota and the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and other locales.
“The community has had a big loss with Ron's passing,” Dabney says. “They don't come around like him anymore.”