Acting Temple President, 72, Dies at Memorial Service

Tuesday, 19 September 2023 09:54 PM EDT

The acting president of Temple University died Tuesday after becoming ill during a memorial service at the Philadelphia university.

JoAnne Epps, 72, who was appointed in April, was scheduled to speak during a memorial service for Charles L. Blockson, a historian, author and curator of the Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple, who died in June at 89.

Shortly after the event began, Epps — a former Temple law school dean and provost — was carried out in the arms of a uniformed officer, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, after the announcer asked whether there was a doctor in attendance. Her cause of death was not immediately known. The ceremony was temporarily delayed but then resumed with Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, the former faculty senate president, stepping in to read Epps’ remarks.

A statement from the university said Epps was transported to Temple University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 3:15 p.m. ET.

“There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,” said the university’s statement, signed by Mitchell Morgan, chair of the Board of Trustees, Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer, and Gregory Mandel, senior vice president and provost. “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.

“Our thoughts are with President Epps’ family, and with all members of the Temple community in this moment."

Morgan said at a news conference he would hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to figure out the next steps for the university. The school recently launched a search for a new president, but that could take the better part of a year. Epps had not intended to be a candidate and planned on retiring before the board asked her to take on the interim role, the Inquirer reported.

Epps was named acting president following the resignation in March of Jason Wingard, who had been leading the 30,530-student university since July 2021. Wingard, the university's first Black president, stepped down following a surge of violence that affected the campus.

A vigil for Epps is planned at the Bell Tower at noon Wednesday, the Inquirer reported. Flags will be flown at half-staff on the university campus.

Williams-Witherspoon, who sat next to Epps before the memorial began, said Epps had been in good spirits and had just come from another meeting, the Inquirer reported. The two were longtime friends, and Epps had told her she had read an article about Philadelphia’s new youth poet laureate and knew Williams-Witherspoon, a performance poet, would be interested.

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Michael Katz

Michael Katz is a Newsmax reporter with more than 30 years of experience reporting and editing on news, culture, and poltics.

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