TAMPA — In the 1950s, Sunstate Builders bought 325 acres of citrus property 7 miles north of Tampa.
Developers needed a name for the subdivision, which they billed as a serene alternative to crowded South Tampa. Something evocative and easy to remember.
Elizabeth O'Neal, the right-hand woman to Sunstate's Matt Jetton, suggested a name: "Carrollwood."
She thought the one-word name would improve upon the developments left over from 1920s boom years, with binary names like Sunset Park and Beach Park. "Carrollwood" also called to mind Lake Carroll, which its homes bordered.
Mrs. O'Neal would play a major role in the early success of Original Carrollwood and Carrollwood Village. Though not an architect, she met with prospective buyers and designed their dream homes, sometimes with national recognition.
Mrs. O'Neal, who used skill and intuition with winning results, died Monday after a brief illness. She was 91.
"She designed them, I built them," said Jetton, 87, who still lives in Carrollwood Village. "The main talent she had was to sit down with a customer, find out what they wanted and be able to put that on a piece of paper that matched their desires and needs."
Mrs. O'Neal designed the home of some of Tampa's most prominent residents, including that of John Allen, the University of South Florida's first president, and his wife Grace, a friend.
Born Elizabeth Setzer in 1920, Mrs. O'Neal graduated from Plant High School and the Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University), where she majored in art.
"She had an artistic temperament," said Robert Setzer, 87, her brother and a retired USF professor. "When she worked on a plan, she devoted herself to getting that plan done the way she wanted it."
Mrs. O'Neal also designed some of the homes she lived in with her first husband, William Wild; or with John O'Neal, her husband through five decades. The homes were like her: they made visitors feel welcome and at ease.
Some of them won national awards, Jetton said. Her own Carrollwood home made Life magazine.
For many years, Mrs. O'Neal helped her husband in a successful furniture business. In her spare time she crafted hooked rugs, Christmas ornaments or other projects.
John O'Neal died in the late 1990s. Mrs. O'Neal remained in Tampa until last year, when she moved to Dunnellon.
She continued to play bridge, a game at which she excelled. Authorities of bridge say the game requires concentration, logic and the ability to work in partnership with others.
"She knew how to communicate with people," Jetton said. "She was just a very talented person."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]