PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — JoAnne Epps, Temple University’s beloved acting president, died on Tuesday, the university said. She was 72 years old.
Epps became ill during a memorial service at Temple for Charles L. Blockson, a curator of the Blockson Collection. She was then taken to Temple University Hospital for further treatment and pronounced dead at around 3:15 p.m., the university said.
“She had an amazing ability to be the calming force in troubled waters and pull everyone together and was a pleasure to work for, made every day coming into work fun and was steering the Temple ship in the right direction,” Ken Kaiser, the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Temple, said. “I think it’s just a gut punch right now. It’s hard.”
Temple officials didn’t disclose a cause for Epps’ death. A doctor from Temple University Hospital said Epps, who first joined Temple’s faculty in 1985, suffered a “sudden episode” during the event and resuscitation efforts weren’t successful.
Gregory Mandel, the senior vice president and provost at Temple, said the Board of Trustees will meet on Wednesday to put together a plan as the university manages through the transition period.
The university will have a vigil at the Bell Tower at noon on Wednesday to honor Epps.
“We’re all in deep grief and at a loss for words. We grieve for JoAnne’s family, her friends and our Temple community,” said Mandel, who was emotional during the news conference at Temple Hospital.
Mandel said after Epps’ sudden passing, he started thinking of memories throughout his time on North Broad. He said Epps was a friend ever since he joined Temple’s law faculty in 2007.
“We’ve worked together in several different capacities over the years,” Mandel said. “She’s been an extraordinary leader, she’s been a mentor for me and many others, she’s been a close confidant.”
“President Epps represented the best part of the Temple community, devoting nearly 40 years of her life to supporting us, as my colleague Ken said in man different capacities,” he added. “We will all get through this. The university has a spectacularly strong community and we will get through this together.”
Epps didn’t retire and went on to become Temple’s acting president in April after Jason Wingard, the university’s first Black president, resigned due to her “love for the university,” Mandel said.
Epps, a Cheltenham, Pennsylvania native, had several roles at Temple. She was the dean of Temple Beasley School of Law from 2008-16 until she became the university’s executive vice president and provost in 2016. Epps was eventually replaced by Mandel as the provost in 2021.
Epps was also an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia and a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles.
Before Temple named Epps acting president, Wingard’s tenure was filled with criticisms from students, faculty and alumni as the university community dealt with crime around campus and the fatal shooting of Temple University Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald.
Wingard’s time at Temple lasted less than two years.
The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) authorized a vote of no confidence in March for the university’s leadership at the end of Wingard’s tenure.
Kaiser recalled Epps stepping into the role “there was a collective sigh.”
“I think over last six months, you saw the entire university community pull together, despite all of the ups and down Temple has faced over this time, everyone was healing and everyone felt great about Temple and happy for JoAnne,” Kaiser said.
The university launched a national search for the president shortly after Epps stepped into the role.
After Epps’ sudden death, condolences poured in over social media.
“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 posted on X. “May her memory be a blessing.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney also released a statement about Epps passing.
“Heartbroken by the sudden passing of@TempleUniv,” Kenney wrote on X. “Acting President JoAnne A. Epps. She was a passionate and steadfast leader who inspired many. I feel fortunate to have known her. My heart is with the Temple community and JoAnne’s family and loved ones.”
TAUP also released a statement in regards to Epps’ sudden death:
Cherelle Parker, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia mayor, released a statement about Epps’ passing: