The Life of William Howard Rooks

W. Howard Rooks, 88 of Sarasota died peacefully at his home on October 20, 2022, surrounded by his loving daughter and grandchildren.

Howard was born on February 8, 1934, in Turkey, North Carolina, the second of two children born to William and Orpha Rooks. The son of a North Carolina tobacco farmer, Howard was the first from his town to attend college. He continued to work the fields with his family and hitchhiked rides to East Carolina University where he became class president. He received his BA in 1956 and, years later, became a Trustee of the University. Howard served two years in the U.S. Army before becoming a high school teacher in Alexandria, Virginia where he met his wife of 25 years, Sue Gilliam Rooks.

One evening, after closing on their new home in Alexandria, Howard noticed the real estate agent earned more on one transaction than he made teaching school for an entire year. Howard decided to get his real estate license and try to sell houses on the weekends to supplement his salary. He quickly fell in love with the business, gave up teaching, and in 1968, founded Mount Vernon Realty in Alexandria. Over the next 25 years, he grew the company to over 3,000 agents and 62 offices. Before he sold the company to Weichert Realtors in 1991, Mount Vernon Realty became the 10th largest privately owned real estate company in the United States. He was an inspiring and charismatic leader, driven by helping his agents create their own dreams and meet their goals.

Following the sale of his business, Howard began to spend more time in Sarasota where he had purchased a small home on Lido Key in 1970. He was passionate about Sarasota and knew one day he would retire there. He spent the last 30 years of his life in Sarasota, but never really retired. An admitted “deal junkie," Howard was soon creating, developing, partnering, and investing full-time in Sarasota. He was quickly joined by his daughter Lisa and her husband Bob Morris in many of these real estate investments. He was also involved in several related business pursuits including The Plaza restaurant on Longboat Key, Cork and the Bottle Shop on St. Armands Circle, and Amore restaurant in downtown’s Burns Court neighborhood. His initial passion was the real estate itself, but he came to love the process of creating a community, spending time with the staff, and enjoying meals, drinks, and great music with his friends and regulars at the piano bar.

Howard was also passionate about the modern architecture of Sarasota and his Lido Shores neighborhood. At a time when Mediterranean style homes were in favor, he sought to bring more classic modern architecture to Sarasota. Having no experience in building, construction, or design, Howard sought out the best people in each field; he partnered with Guy Peterson, Pat Ball and Rick Carlisle to help bring his vision to life. He restored and improved several of the most important Sarasota School of Architecture houses and built several high-end waterfront spec homes.

While Howard always hoped to make a profit, sometimes he didn’t, especially during times of recession. What was most important to Howard was creating projects that were fun, beautiful, and interesting; projects that would create delight and benefit others. He had big ideas and knew how to connect with people who could do what he could not. Howard was the ultimate optimist and a fearless risk-taker, always motivated by the creative process. He measured his success by his relationships with others, what he was able to create, and how he made others feel. Over the years, money came and went, and came again, but never seemed to influence who he was and how he treated other people. He had a deep inner faith that all would be well. He was extraordinarily grateful for his life and for those in it.

Howard was an active Rotarian for decades. He was a member of St. Armands Lutheran Church and served as a Stephen minister there. He served on the Board of Directors for Meals on Wheels, Sarasota. He was a two term Trustee of East Carolina University and served on many other charitable and business boards during his professional careers in both Alexandria and Sarasota.

Howard was predeceased by his beloved son, Gregory Kent Rooks. He is survived by his daughter Lisa Rooks Morris of Sarasota, his grandchildren Kathryn “Kate” Morris and Robert “Tripp” Morris, his big sister, Janice Tolar, and his niece, Jacki Cavenaugh both of Newport, NC.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, November 7 at 10:00am, St. Armands Key Lutheran Church, 40 Adams Dr., Sarasota, FL 34236

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to St. Armands Key Lutheran Church, 40 North Adams Drive, Sarasota, FL 34236 or

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