Cheltenham grad, Temple president JoAnne Epps dies after collapsing at university event

Temple News reported that Acting President JoAnne Epps, a 1969 graduate of Cheltenham High School, has died after collapsing on stage at a university event Tuesday afternoon.

Epps, 72, was speaking at a memorial service for Charles L. Blockson, the curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University.

“I am devastated by this loss,” Mitch Morgan, chair of the Board of Trustees, told The Inquirer. “She was our light at the end of the tunnel. Temple University will survive it. I’m not sure I will emotionally survive it.”

A uniformed officer carried Epps off stage, at which point the ceremony was temporarily postponed, but then resumed with Kimmika Williams Witherspoon, former faculty senate president, stepping in to read Epps’ remarks, The Inquirer reported.

“There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss,” wrote Morgan, Senior Vice President Ken Kaiser and Provost Gregory Mandel in the email. “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.” 

Epps was transported to Temple University Hospital for further treatment, where she was pronounced dead at 3:15pm, university leaders wrote.

Epps became Temple’s new leader after the Board of Trustees unanimously voted her the university’s acting president at a meeting on April 11. 

“The days ahead will be difficult, but we will lean on one another as President Epps would want us to,” the leaders wrote.

The news comes one day after U.S. News & World Report announced its annual “Best Colleges” ranking of national universities. Temple University, under the leadership of President Epps, ranks No. 89 on this year’s list, which is the highest ranking ever achieved by the university. It also marks the first time that Temple has been recognized as a Top 100 institution.

According to local historian Chuck Langerman, Epps, who grew up in the LaMott section of Cheltenham Township, was in the National Honor Society, Vice-President of the senior class, and Homecoming Queen at Cheltenham High.

Cheltenham School District posted the following on behalf of her passing:

She was inducted into the Cheltenham High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Philadelphia Inquirer Business Hall of Fame in 2016. For more on her life and career, you can click here.

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Photo courtesy of Temple University