PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Temple University interim president JoAnne A. Epps has died after collapsing at a memorial service Tuesday afternoon, the university said.
Epps was transported to Temple University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m. She was 72.
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.
"There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss," said Mitchell Morgan, Temple board chairman, 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."
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."
Many people across Temple's campus felt the same way, saying Epps was a true icon.
"I thought she was a terrific leader and it's just a tremendous loss," said Michael Zuckerman, a business associate professor at the university.
Epps' death comes just one day after she sent an email to the entire campus, praising the Temple University family.
In the email, she detailed that the school had jumped to its highest-ever ranking in the U.S. News and World Report of universities nationwide. Epps went on to say that the results honor the hard work of faculty, staff, students, and graduates.
Mandel said the university's Board of Trustees would be meeting Wednesday to "put together a plan for us as we work through this transition."
Epps, Temple's former law school dean and provost, was named to the post in April following the resignation of Jason Wingard, the university's first Black president, who resigned in March after leading the 33,600-student university since July 2021.
"The reason Joanne didn't retire from Temple as she scheduled to do at the end of this year was her love of the university, her love of the community," said Mandel.
The provost says although the loss is tragic, Epps passed away doing what she loved: serving Temple's community.
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% 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.
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."
A vigil will be held to honor Epps on Wednesday. It begins at noon at the university's Bell Tower.
Temple released this statement to the university community on Tuesday:
"It is with deep heartbreak that we write to inform you that Temple University Acting President JoAnne A. Epps suddenly passed away this afternoon.
While attending a memorial service at Temple for Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Blockson Collection, President Epps became ill. She was transported to Temple University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m.
There are no words that can describe the gravity and sadness of this loss. 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.
The days ahead will be difficult, but we will lean on one another as President Epps would want us to."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.