Temple University’s acting president died after she collapsed on stage at a campus memorial service on Tuesday, the Philadelphia college announced.
JoAnne A. Epps, 72, suffered what a doctor described to reporters as a “sudden episode” while attending a memorial service at the university for Charles L. Blockson, curator of a collection of African American artifacts.
Epps was scheduled to speak at the event, but had to be carried out by uniformed police after she slumped over in her chair, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
She was taken to Temple University Hospital, where she died around 3:15 p.m.
Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Temple, said the university was unaware of any prior health issues that Epps may have been dealing with.
He called her death a “gut punch” for the school community.
“Joanne was full of life, somebody who was super compassionate and truly cared about other people and had a wonderful way of pulling them all together and getting people excited about even a daunting task, making things fun,” Kaiser told the Associated Press.
Temple University Provost Gregory Mandel held back tears as he described Epps.
“We are all in deep grief and at a loss for words. To know Joanne is to be her friend,” Mandel said at the news conference.
Temple’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet Wednesday to “put together a plan for us as we work through this transition,” Mandel said.
Epps was named acting president of the university in April after Jason Wingard, Temple’s first black president, resigned in March. She was Temple’s former law school dean and provost.
She started working at the university bookstore 40 years ago, and dedicated her career to bettering the 33,000-plus student university.
Enrollment at the school plummeted by 14% since 2019 and the school experienced surging violent crime near its north Philly campus during her predecessors’ tenure. Epps had made it her goal to improve safety and raise enrollment, she told the Inquirer.
Epps had intended to be a candidate to permanently fill the position, but said she was selected to lead the university “to calm the waters.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro called her loss “heartbreaking for Philadelphia,” saying she had been “a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades.”
With Post wires