At times, Keeble forgot details such as relatives’ names. Still, she recited Scripture easily while discussing her commitment to Jesus Christ.
“God wants you to preach the Bible, in season and out, reprove and rebuke, with all long suffering,” she said in the 2003 AP interview.
She could tell you all about her grandmother, who was born before the Civil War, and she really shined when she talked about her late husband, Marshall Keeble, who was already a well-known minister when they met.
“Ain’t he a dandy?” she said, holding a black-and-white photograph of her husband of 34 years. “He loved to dress and go preach. He’d say, ‘Come on, Mama, let’s go to church.’ “
In the 2003 interview, she chuckled as she recalled their drawn-out honeymoon: a three-month tent revival that he preached in California.
Born Aug. 6, 1898, Laura Catherine Johnson was one of seven girls and three boys in her family. Her father, Luke, worked in an iron foundry. Her mother, Susan, was a nurse.
When Marshall Keeble came along, Laura was 35 and wondering if she might die an “old maid.”
Keeble, the son of slaves, was a recent widower and 20 years older than Laura. His first wife, Minnie, a Fisk University graduate, helped teach Keeble how to read and write. In 36 years of marriage, they had five children, two of whom died in infancy.
“Some of you ought to find me a good wife,” Keeble told friends after Minnie died from an illness. “I can’t live single the rest of my life as young as I am.”
Percy Ricks, husband of Laura’s older sister Willie, suggested his sister-in-law.
Marshall Keeble initiated the courtship with letters. To see a preacher “flirting around with a woman” disgusted him, he said, so he never spent more than five minutes alone with her before they married.
Keeble later said, “Ricks told me I’d get the best rose in the Johnson flower garden, and I think I did.”
While the minister spent weeks and even months on the road, Sister Keeble stayed home.
“There was plenty to do at home to keep her occupied,” author Willie Cato wrote in the book His Hand and His Heart … The Wit and Wisdom of Marshall Keeble.
“She became a very loving mother to his three children and also to the grandchildren. … Laura knew that Keeble was doing what he loved to do and what he did best _ preaching the Gospel.
“She loved him dearly and always supported him in his efforts to evangelize the world.”
Later, when Keeble served as president of the Nashville Christian Institute, a school for black children, his wife kept up to a dozen girls at a time in her home. She never gave birth to a child, but she became “Mama” to many.
After Keeble’s daughter, Beatrice, died after a lengthy illness in 1935, Sister Keeble raised her two young daughters.
March 7, 2007