Temple University’s acting President died unexpectedly Tuesday after falling ill during a memorial service, according to school officials in Philadelphia.
JoAnne A. Epps, 72, became ill while attending a memorial service for Charles L. Blockson of the school’s Blockson Afro-American Collection of Black American art and artifacts. While someone else was speaking on stage, Epps abruptly slumped in her chair. According to the school, she was rushed to Temple University Hospital but died at 3:15 p.m. that day.
“There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,” the university said in its 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.”
According to NBC News, The school’s chief operating officer, Ken Kaiser, said at a news conference Tuesday, “It’s just a gut punch for all of us right now,” and described Epps as a “calm force in troubled waters.”
Epps had a distinguished career at Temple University, serving as provost from 2016 to 2021 and as dean of its Beasley School of Law from 2008 to 2016. During her tenure, the law school gained prominence. She was also recognized as one of the most influential people in legal education.
She was a native of Cheltenham, a Philadelphia suburb, and graduated from Yale Law School. Her career centered justice and justice reform, according to her online biography. She held various roles, including being a member of the Philadelphia police oversight board, leading an independent group of public defenders in the city, and working as an assistant city attorney in Los Angeles and assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia.
According to officials, the board of trustees of the university planned to meet on Wednesday to develop a leadership strategy in the wake of Epp’s death.
A vigil is reportedly scheduled for noon Wednesday at Temple’s Bell Tower.