Temple University announced that its acting president, JoAnne A. Epps, has died after becoming ill at an event on Tuesday. She was attending a memorial service for Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Blockson Afro-American Collection, when she was transported to Temple University Hospital.
She was pronounced dead at 3:15 p.m. The university has not shared the cause of death.
“There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,” the university said in a statement. “President Epps was a devoted servant and friend who represented the best parts of Temple. She spent nearly 40 years of her life serving this university, and it goes without saying her loss will reverberate through the community for years to come.”
Epps was appointed to the role in April after spending nearly 40 years at Temple University. She stepped in after the former president resigned, a six-week-graduate student worker strike and the shooting of a campus police officer.
“I am obviously humbled and excited and really looking forward to being able to make a contribution to the university that I so love,” Epps told The Philadelphia Enquirer.
“She had an amazing ability to be the calming force in troubled waters and pulled everyone together,” Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer, said.
Epps’ mother once worked as a secretary for the school while she occupied a cashier job at the Temple bookstore when she was 16. She graduated from Yale Law School and became deputy city attorney in Los Angeles in 1976 before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia. Epps worked for 31 years at Temple’s law school, including eight years as a dean and then provost.
“Acting president JoAnne Epps dedicated decades of her professional life to the Temple University community — championing women and people of color in the legal profession and inspiring a generation of leaders,” Joanna McClinton, speaker of the Pennsylvania House, said. “Today’s news is a tragedy. She will be truly missed by the Temple community and beyond.”
We invite the entire Temple community to join us at the Bell Tower at noon tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 20, for a special vigil in President Epps’ honor.
— Temple University (@TempleUniv) September 20, 2023
A vigil is taking place at the Bell Tower at noon Wednesday. Flags will be flown at half-staff, and professors will individually decide how to organize their classes, according to the news outlet.
“JoAnne Epps was a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades. Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro tweeted. “Speaking at Temple’s commencement earlier this year, I reiterated my strong belief in the university and its North Philly community. They are tough and resilient, and I know they will come together and lift each other up in this devastating time.”