"President Epps was a devoted servant and friend who represented the best parts of Temple," the university said in a statement
Temple University acting president JoAnne A. Epps died on Tuesday after falling ill at a memorial service on campus, Temple announced in a statement.
Epps, a beloved member of the community, was 72.
"It is with deep heartbreak that we write to inform you that Temple University Acting President JoAnne A. Epps suddenly passed away this afternoon," the statement read. "While attending a memorial service at Temple for Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Blockson Collection, President Epps became ill. She was transported to Temple University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m."
"There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss," the statement continued. "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."
The message concluded, "Our thoughts are with President Epps’ family, and with all members of the Temple community in this moment. The days ahead will be difficult, but we will lean on one another as President Epps would want us to."
At a news conference on Tuesday, Ken Kaiser, Temple's senior vice president and chief operating officer, said the university was "not aware that President Epps had any health issues" prior to her sudden death, the Associated Press reported.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Epps slumped in her chair shortly after the start of Tuesday's memorial service, where she was scheduled to speak. She was carried out by a uniformed officer before being transported to the hospital.
Provost Gregory N. Mandel became emotional during the news conference as he spoke about his late colleague. “We are all in deep grief and at a loss for words. To know Joanne is to be her friend,” Mandel said, per AP. “She was one of the most remarkably compassionate and caring individuals I’ve ever known.”
Epps was named acting president in April after the resignation of Jason Wingard, the university’s first Black president. Kaiser said Epps began her long tenure at Temple 40 years ago working as a cashier at the campus bookstore. According to her Temple bio, she taught law classes at the school for more than three decades and served as provost and dean of Temple's law school.
Prior to her university career, she worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia and a Deputy City Attorney in Los Angeles. She was a longtime champion for women and minorities in the law profession, and held leadership roles in the American Bar Association, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and the American Law Institute affiliate, ALI-ABA .
When she replaced Wingard, Epps vowed to focus on boosting enrollment and improving safety amid a sharp uptick in crime around Temple's North Philadelphia campus. “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 Inquirer in April following her appointment.
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Jeffrey Doshna, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Epps had planned to retire before Temple's board asked her to take on the acting president post. She made an immediate impact at the school's helm, he said.
"She absolutely changed the tone and tenor of things on campus," Doshna told the Inquirer. "She was asked to step in and serve when she was ready to retire, and I think that needs to be acknowledged."
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro paid tribute to Epps on X Tuesday, calling her a "powerful force and constant ambassador" for Temple throughout her 40-year tenure at the university. "Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia. Lori and I are holding JoAnne’s loved ones in our hearts right now. May her memory be a blessing," he wrote, referencing his wife, Lori Shapiro.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he is "heartbroken" by Epps' death. "She was a passionate and steadfast leader who inspired many," he wrote on X. "I feel fortunate to have known her. My heart is with the Temple community and JoAnne’s family and loved ones."
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