Acting Temple University president JoAnne A. Epps has died aged 72 after collapsing on stage at an event on Tuesday afternoon.
Epps was transported to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia where she was pronounced dead around 3.15pm.
She was taking part in a memorial service for Charles L. Blockson, the curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at the university, when she suddenly collapsed on stage.
A uniformed police officer carried her off the stage and the ceremony was temporarily suspended.
Her death was confirmed by the university in a statement which read: ‘It is with deep heartbreak that we write to inform you that Temple University Acting President JoAnne A. Epps suddenly passed away this afternoon.’
‘There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,’ Temple board chairman Mitchell Morgan said in the 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.’
Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Temple, declined to speculate about Epps’ health prior to her collapse.
‘We are not aware that President Epps had any health issues,’ Kaiser said at a news conference.
Temple University Provost Gregory Mandel choked up 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.
‘She was one of the most remarkably compassionate and caring individuals I’ve ever known.’
Mandel said the university’s Board of Trustees would be meeting tomorrow to ‘put together a plan for us as we work through this transition.’
Epps was speaking at a memorial event for Blockson, who had died on June 14 aged 89, before she collapsed.
The event was temporarily suspended when she collapsed but resumed with Kimmika Williams Witherspoon, a former faculty senate president, who stepped in to read Epps’ remarks.
Epps, Temple’s former law school dean and provost, was named to the post in April following the resignation of Jason Wingard who resigned in March after leading the 33,600-student university since July 2021.
Wingard, the university’s first Black president, stepped down after less than two years in charge following a surge of violence that affected the campus.
Epps’ tenure began after Temple University officer Christopher Fitzgerald, 31, was shot dead in February after pursuing three people dressed in black and wearing masks in an area where there had been a spate of robberies.
Kaiser said Epps started out working at Temple’s bookstore 40 years ago and dedicated herself to improving the university.
Epps vowed to focus on enrollment and safety due to spiraling crime near the north Philadelphia campus and other issues during her predecessor’s tumultuous tenure.
She told The Philadelphia Inquirer, which reported enrollment was down 14 percent since 2019, that she believed she was selected in part for her ‘ability to sort of calm waters.’
‘I am obviously humbled and excited and really looking forward to being able to make a contribution to the university that I so love,’ Epps told the newspaper. She said she would not be a candidate for the permanent position.
The Temple Association of University Professionals labor union recalled Epps’ personal touch.
‘I remember her walking into my office this April, and chatting with me one-on-one about how we could work together to make Temple a better place,’ union president Jeffrey Doshna said in a statement.
Gov. Josh Shapiro described Epps as ‘a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades.’
‘Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia,’ Shapiro said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. ‘Lori and I are holding JoAnne’s loved ones in our hearts right now. May her memory be a blessing.’
Kaiser recalled leaving the office when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Temple was shutting down.
‘It was our last day in the office, we were together and I said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in a couple weeks,’ and I didn’t really see her for two years,’ Kaiser said.
He later told her that if he had known they wouldn’t see each other for two years, he would have given her a hug.