JoAnne Epps, 72, the acting president of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, died suddenly and from an unknown cause on Tuesday, Fox News reported.
Epps was rushed to the university's hospital after appearing to fall ill and collapse on stage during a campus event but was shortly thereafter pronounced dead.
According to the Associated Press, Epps was on stage in attendance at a memorial service for Charles L. Blockson, a curator of African-American artifacts for the university, when she suffered what doctors called a "sudden episode" and slumped down in her chair.
She was carried off stage by a uniformed officer and subsequently transported to Temple University Hospital but was ultimately declared to be dead by doctors by mid-afternoon.
Epps, who previously served as the dean and provost of Temple's law school, had just been named in April as the university's acting president following the resignation in March of former President Jason Wingard, which was the culmination of her 40-year career at Temple that began with a job in the campus bookstore.
At that time, she had expressed how "humbled and excited" she was at the position she had achieved as acting president and revealed that the main focus of her admittedly temporary tenure would be improving campus safety amid Philadelphia's high crime rates and increasing student enrollment that had been in decline in recent years.
A joint announcement about the sudden death of Epps was released by Temple's Board of Trustees Chair Mitchell Morgan, Senior VP and COO Ken Kaiser, and Senior VP and Provost Gregory Mandel.
"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," they said. "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 trio of university leaders added.
The AP reported that the three leaders also spoke at a press conference on Tuesday, during which Kaiser lamented that Epps' death was a "gut punch for all of us right now" as he also acknowledged that the school was "not aware that President Epps had any health issues."
"JoAnne was full of life, somebody who was super compassionate and truly cared about other people and had a wonderful way of pulling them all together and getting people excited about even a daunting task, making things fun," he added.
Mandel said, "We are all in deep grief and at a loss for words. To know JoAnne is to be her friend," and added that the Board of Trustees would soon meet and "put together a plan for us as we work through this transition."
Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro also weighed in on the tragedy that occurred at the famed Philadelphia university and said in a statement, "JoAnne Epps was a powerful force and constant ambassador for Temple University for nearly four decades. Losing her is heartbreaking for Philadelphia. Lori and I are holding JoAnne’s loved ones in our hearts right now. May her memory be a blessing."
Per the university, a vigil was held at noon on campus in honor of Epps' life and achievements that all students, staff, and faculty were invited to attend.