Temple University acting president dies suddenly after falling ill at memorial service

The leader of Temple University suddenly died Tuesday after falling ill at a memorial service, officials at the Philadelphia school said.

Acting President JoAnne A. Epps, 72, was attending a memorial for Charles L. Blockson of the school’s Blockson Afro-American Collection of Black American art and artifacts when she became ill, the school said in a statement.

Epps was seated on stage while someone else was speaking when she suddenly slumped in her chair, said university spokespeople Stephen C. Orbanek and Deirdre Childress Hopkins.

JoAnne A. Epps, acting president of Temple University, speaks at a school function.
JoAnne A. Epps, acting president of Temple University, speaks at a school function.NBC Philadelphia

She was taken to Temple University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead about 3:15 p.m., the school said.

“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.”

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.”

He described Epps as a “calm force in troubled waters.”

Epps was provost of Temple University from 2016 to 2021, and dean from 2008 to 2016 of its Beasley School of Law, which rose in prominence during her tenure, the institution said.

She spent five consecutive years, 2013 to 2017, on a list of the most influential people in legal education produced by the National Jurist, the school said.

Epps is a native of Cheltenham, a Philadelphia suburb, and graduated from Yale Law School before embarking on a career focused on justice and justice reform, according to biographies published by Temple.

She had also been a member of the Philadelphia police oversight board, leader of an independent group of public defenders in the city, assistant city attorney in Los Angeles and assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia.

Officials said the North Philadelphia private institution’s board of trustees planned to meet Wednesday to come up with a leadership plan.

Gregory N. Mandel, Temple’s senior vice president and provost, said, “We will be able to weather this by working together.”

A vigil was planned for noon Wednesday at Temple’s Bell Tower, a school spokesperson said.

CORRECTION (Sept. 19, 2023, 6:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated what happened to JoAnne Epps. She fell ill while seated as someone else spoke; she did not collapse while speaking on stage.

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