What you need to know
- Temple University Acting President JoAnne Epps died Tuesday after falling ill at a campus event. A vigil will be held Wednesday in her honor.
- Epps had taken the helm in April following the resignation of Jason Wingard.
- Wingard’s resignation came on the heels of months of controversy and concerns from key stakeholders about Temple’s future.
- Temple recently launched its search for the university’s new leader.
At a vigil for JoAnne Epps on Wednesday, Bensalem-based attorney and Temple University alum Andre Dover reflected on the life of a teacher he greatly admired.
As an undergraduate, and later as a law school graduate student, Dover would often lean on Dr. JoAnne Epps during his crucial, formative years. She was the dean when Dover was pursuing his legal degree.
“Dean Epps always had some kind words for me. Some instruction about what I needed to do to go forward,” Dover said, after attending Wednesday’s vigil at Temple University’s Bell Tower. “She was all for the students. That’s her biggest thing. She wanted to make sure we had what we needed. We were prepared and equipped. And we were ready for the real world. It’s a tough loss for the Temple community today.”
Epps, 72, was the acting president of Temple University. She died after falling ill at a campus event Tuesday afternoon.
Less than 24 hours later, Dover joined hundreds of mourners on campus to remember her contribution and legacy.
The cause of death has not been shared publicly, but a doctor said Epps suffered a “sudden episode” on Tuesday afternoon while attending a campus event. She was pronounced dead by 3:15 p.m. after being rushed to Temple Hospital.
Aissia Richardson could not hold back her tears at the vigil.
Richardson, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Sharif Street, was there when Epps collapsed. She said it was an extremely difficult day for not just students, faculty, staff, and alumni, but for neighborhoods across North Philadelphia.
“The Temple community has been through several devastating losses but it is incredibly resilient and so we will pull together as a community, as a North Philadelphia community, and embrace each other through our grief,” Richardson said as she wept.
Chancellor Richard Englert said Epps was a mentor to many and lived a good life dedicated to social justice.
“We miss you JoAnne. But we will always love you. And never forget you,” Englert said, his voice breaking up on the stage. “Hers was a life well lived. She loved her role as president connecting with both Temple people and with government leaders. Potential future students. Parents and ordinary citizens of the city and the commonwealth. She always saw that the glass was half full. Probably even three quarters full.”
Epps dedicated nearly 40 years to the university. She worked her way up from the bookstore to law school dean and provost before she was tapped to lead the university in April, when her predecessor and Temple’s first Black president Jason Wingard resigned in March.
Philadelphia School Board President Reginald Streater, a former student, said he used to keep a photo of himself and Epps in his office and people often wonder if she was his mother.
“I would say no, this is not my biological mother but this is the woman who birthed me to the profession of law,” he said. “And nurtured too. And that’s her legacy. I would think there’s so many people that would say the same thing.”
Streater says that Epps could have retired years ago, but she kept going because she wanted to serve the community.
“She did her duty. She served Philadelphia,” he said. “She served the students of Temple University. But every time the university came a-calling, she answered. And that’s what I appreciate about her.”
A memorial service for Epps is expected to take place in the coming weeks.
The Temple University Board of Trustees held an emergency closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss a potential replacement for Epps’s position but no vote was taken.
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