ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (AP) — Their unconventional love story began with a phone call that caused Keister Greer to burst into tears.
Elizabeth "Ibby" Call was the librarian at the Christian Science Reading Room in downtown Roanoke in February 1990 when she phoned the Greer household to inquire whether Keister's wife, Dorothy, wanted to renew a subscription to the Christian Science Quarterly.
Ibby did not know that, in the space of about two years, Keister, who answered the phone that day, had lost Dorothy, as well as Celeste, the couple's youngest daughter, and his only brother, James. Keister's mother, Goldie, was near death.
After that conversation Ibby penned a sympathy note and mailed it, with no return address, to Keister at his home at The Grove in Rocky Mount. He responded by asking acquaintances in Roanoke to track down Ibby's phone number. And then he called to tell her that out of the hundreds of cards received in the wake of all of his losses, hers was the most beautiful.
In March 1990, on a day that happened to be Ibby's 40th birthday, the two met for a blind date. Less than three months later, the couple married. Keister was 28 years older than his bride.
"We had a wonderful 18 years together, and then he died in my arms," Ibby Greer said during a recent interview at The Grove, the historic property and mansion off Floyd Avenue that Keister purchased in 1959.
Before his death at age 86 in May 2008, Ibby promised Keister that if she sold The Grove the contract would specify that the grand plantation home, completed in 1854, could not be demolished.
In October 2008, Ibby put The Grove up for sale. At the time, the price was $1.2 million. She moved to Roanoke and rented a house on Avenham Avenue.
But she missed The Grove and moved back in April 2009 and took the property off the market.
In March 2012, feeling a need to downsize and move on to life's next chapter, Ibby listed The Grove again. The current asking price for the mansion and estate is $649,900. The property includes nearly 10 acres and seven outbuildings, including an original smokehouse, a small building that once housed Jubal Early's law office and a more modern house adjacent to a swimming pool.
The property could provide as many as eight bedrooms, she said, and five and a half bathrooms.
"It's a real, real deal," Ibby said. "It's livable right now."
One property edge is a stone's throw from a commercial building downtown that the town of Rocky Mount recently decided to convert into a performance center. Town officials and others hope the venue will capture tourists traveling The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail, as well as lure other people and economic activity to downtown.
Ibby said she fully supports the creation of the performance center and believes it will be successful.
And she said new owners could transform The Grove into a bed and breakfast or event center, such as the Bedford Columns in Bedford, that could capitalize on the property's proximity to the performance center.
In the past year, six prospective buyers have looked at The Grove, Ibby said, including two nonprofit organizations, two families and two groups contemplating some sort of commercial enterprise.
The property is zoned R1 Residential. Matt Hankins, Rocky Mount's assistant town manager, said that if someone wanted to convert The Grove into a bed and breakfast "they wouldn't need a rezone, just a special exception" — which he said would require public hearings before the planning commission and town council.
Meanwhile, Ibby is an authority on the property's history and the genealogy of former occupants.
The Grove mansion, which features Greek Revival architectural details, was built from 1850 to 1854 by John Stafford Hale for his second wife, Margaret Ingles Saunders Hale. Ibby said Margaret was a great-granddaughter of Mary Draper Ingles, who was famously abducted by Shawnee warriors in 1775 from Drapers Meadow and later escaped to make her way miraculously home.
John Hale originally had been married to a sister of Jubal Early. Early became a Confederate general during the Civil War. Ibby said Union cavalry raided The Grove right after the war's end while searching for "renegade Confederates," including Early.
The Union soldiers stole meat from the smokehouse but did not find the Hale family silver, which Ibby said had been hidden in a well.
She said historic prints of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and other "Confederate art" in the mansion will likely be included in the sale.
Meanwhile, Ibby, now 63, shares the mansion with her fiance, William Conner, from Copper Hill.
Keister, a distinguished lawyer who once argued and won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, graduated from the University of Virginia after serving as an officer in the U.S. Marines during World War II. He received his law degree from UVa in 1948 and practiced law in both Virginia and California before retiring in 1999.
He later wrote "The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935," a 916-page history of moonshining during the 1920s and 1930s in Franklin County.
Ibby said that when she first met Keister he impressed her as being "one of those elegant Southern gentlemen."
Ibby stood late last month near the mansion's front door and wistfully recounted The Grove's history.
"It's been an honor to live here," she said.
Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com