Temple University Acting President JoAnne Epps died suddenly Tuesday afternoon after falling ill during a university memorial service, the school said in a statement.
She was 72.
“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,” the university, which is in Philadelphia, said.
Epps appeared to have suffered a “sudden episode during the event,” said Temple University Health System’s Daniel del Portal during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
She was tended to by EMS staff and transported to the hospital, where “resuscitation efforts continued but unfortunately were unsuccessful,” del Portal said.
Epps was appointed acting president in early April, shortly after the university announced the resignation of its previous president, Jason Wingard, amid continuing concerns over campus safety and enrollment declines.
By then, Epps had been a member of the university’s faculty for more than three decades and served in roles including the dean of the university’s law school, the executive vice president and provost, and Temple’s chief academic officer, the university said.
And it all began with a job at the school’s book store.
“JoAnne embodied everything that is great about Temple University, rising from working in the bookstore more than 40 years ago to the office of the president,” Ken Kaiser, Temple University’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, said during Tuesday’s news conference.
Epps had previously shared that her first job as a teenager was at the campus bookstore. She later went on to join the university’s faculty in 1985, she has said.
“No one was more beloved at our university than JoAnne was,” Kaiser said Tuesday. “She was a personal friend and mentor to so many of us and she pushed each of us to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Before joining the school’s faculty, Epps served as an assistant US attorney from 1980 to 1985, according to Jacqueline C. Romero, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“She was an icon in the legal community, dedicating her life to public service, the rule of law, experiential legal education, equity and diversity in the profession, and the advancement of civil rights,” Romero said in a Tuesday statement. “She was tireless and passionate about the issues she held dear.”
“On a personal note, JoAnne was a mentor and confidante,” she added. “Today I mourn with countless women who had the pleasure of Joanne’s wise advice, mentorship, and counsel over the years.”
In accepting the position of acting president at Temple University earlier this year, Epps wrote how much the university meant to her, sharing that her mother worked at the school as a secretary for 40 years.
“Temple has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she wrote in an April statement to the community.
“When you see me around campus, please stop to say hello. One of my greatest pleasures is meeting and listening to Temple students, faculty, staff and alumni, hearing your stories and dreams for the future,” Epps wrote.
In a statement posted Tuesday on social media, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said Epps was “a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades.”
“Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia,” the governor said. “Lori and I are holding JoAnne’s loved ones in our hearts right now. May her memory be a blessing.”