During his tenure as head of Barratt, Eaton turned the firm's fortunes around, transforming the £106m loss it made in 1991 when he took over as chief executive into a record pre-tax profit of £220m for the year to 30 June 2002. It is now the UK's third biggest housebuilder.
Eaton, who left school at the age of 15, first joined Barratt in 1979 as construction director in the Manchester office. He joined the main board in 1988 before taking over as chief executive three years later.
Rival housebuilders, including Persimmon chief executive John White, praised his contribution. White said this week: "He had been doing an excellent job and I had a lot of respect for him. He will be very sadly missed by the industry at large."
Former House Builders Federation chief executive Roger Humber said: "Frank was very significant in the successes at Barratt. He was a nuts-and-bolts guy, a builder not an accountant."
In a statement on Tuesday the group said: "We are deeply shocked and our thoughts are with Mr Eaton's family."
Managing director David Pretty has been made acting chief executive. He was due to meet the board yesterday.