JoAnne A. Epps, Temple

Temple University’s First Black Woman Acting President Dies After Falling Ill On Stage

JoAnne A. Epps, the first Black woman to serve as president at Temple University, died suddenly after falling ill onstage at a memorial service.

NBC News reported that Epps, currently the university’s acting president, died Sept. 19 at 3:15 p.m. at Temple University Hospital. She was 72.

University spokespeople said Epps’ body slumped during a speech at scholar Charles L. Blockson’s memorial service. Blockson died in June 2023, according to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. He was known for his Afro-American collection of Black-American art and artifacts.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Epps, who was scheduled to speak at the service, was carried out in the arms of a uniformed officer after the announcer asked if there was a doctor in the house.

“We are not aware that President Epps had any health issues,” Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Temple, said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

“There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,” Temple said in a statement, according to NBC News. “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.”

According to the news outlet, the university said Epps was recognized on the National Jurist’s list of the most influential people in legal education five years in a row. Before she became acting president, Epps was Temple University’s provost for five years. She was dean of the Beasly School of Law from 2008 to 2016.

The Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, native graduated from Yale Law School in 1976. Epps was on the Philadelphia police oversight board, leader of an independent group of public defenders, and assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, NBC News reported. She was also the assistant city attorney in Los Angeles.

Epps is survived by her husband.