JoAnne A. Epps, Temple’s acting president, dies after falling ill on campus

The 72-year-old, a fixture of the university, had taken the helm in April following President Jason Wingard's resignation.

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JoAnne Epps

JoAnne Epps, former provost and law school dean, became Temple’s acting president in April. (Temple University/Ryan S. Brandenberg)

What you need to know

JoAnne A. Epps, acting president of Temple University, died after falling ill during a campus event on Tuesday afternoon.

Epps was attending a memorial service at Temple for Charles L. Blockson, the curator of the Blockson Collection when she fell ill.

The 72-year-old was transported to Temple University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m., according to a press release. The statement was jointly released by Mitchell Morgan, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer, and Gregory Mandel, the senior vice president and provost.

“There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,” the statement read.  “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.”

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Morgan, Kaiser, and Mandel said their thoughts are with the Epps family and the entire Temple community.

“The days ahead will be difficult, but we will lean on one another as President Epps would want us to,” the statement read.

Epps was a fixture in Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and had more than three decades of teaching under her belt. She eventually became the dean in 2008.

After eight years of serving as dean, Temple appointed Epps to the position of executive vice president and provost.

The university was undergoing a tumultuous period when Epps took on her current role.

Outside of higher education, Epps had served as the assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia and the deputy city attorney in Los Angeles.

A Cheltenham native, Epps took on numerous leadership roles in various organizations including the American Bar Association and the Philadelphia Police’s Oversight Board, where she became the inaugural chair.

Epps previously said her years of service had a purpose.

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“If we want to be sure that our time here has meant something, we must ensure that we have handed off to those coming behind us a commitment – and a passion – to work for the best world possible,” Epps said in a statement on her university biography page. “For me, this means inspiring young lawyers to understand the exquisite opportunity our profession offers to serve our world while serving our clients and ourselves.”

Reactions are already pouring in from Philadelphia and beyond on her sudden demise.

“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,” said Speaker of the House state Rep. Joanna McClinton. “Today’s news is a tragedy, she will be truly missed by the Temple community and beyond.”

The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) released a statement calling Epps “a true Temple icon.”

“JoAnne’s calming presence gave Temple a reset this spring when we needed it the most,” TAUP President Jeffrey Doshna said in the press release. “I remember her walking into my office this April, and chatting with me one-on-one about how we could work together to make Temple a better place. That kind of personal approach makes her loss even more profound.”

“Sad news for the education community,” said Greg Lyles, Director of Major Gifts at Delaware State University. Lyles did not know her personally but was inspired by Epps’s work. “She was well loved and respected and a giant. Everyone knows her work in education.”

A vigil for Epps will be held at the university’s bell tower at 12 p.m. Wednesday. The entire Temple community is invited, the university said.

“This will be a time to reflect, remember and support one another during this time of grieving,” Temple officials said in a statement.

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