Editor’s note: JoAnne Epps, the acting president of Temple University, died on September 21 during an event on campus. A Temple professor and administrator for 40 years, Epps was a civic legend, much loved by those who knew her. Below is a reflection from one such Philadelphian, a member of the Temple Board of Trustees.
Like everyone who had the privilege to know her, I am heartbroken by the loss of my friend JoAnne Epps. The emails, text messages, and phone calls I’ve received all paint a consistent picture about who JoAnne was and the life she led.
JoAnne was an accomplished higher education administrator who authentically cared for people. She was a humble giant. Grit and grace with a Temple “T.” Whether you knew her for 40 years, four years, or met her on campus for the first time this semester, you benefitted from her infectious positivity. Her values were on full display in everyday interactions. It didn’t matter the setting.
In April, I had the honor to join my fellow Temple Trustee, Jane Scaccetti, in publicly introducing JoAnne as acting president for Temple University. Our introduction was brief, because JoAnne really didn’t need one. She was known, and loved, throughout her Temple family and the broader Philadelphia community. The messages from across the country and around the globe have demonstrated not only the reach of that Temple family, but also the magnitude of JoAnne’s impact and influence in law and education.
What I enjoyed most about that afternoon in April was sitting in the front row listening to JoAnne tell us the story of her “why.” Why she said “yes” to accepting this role to help Temple when we needed her most. It was a rare moment when JoAnne spoke about herself. It was a glimpse into what motivated her to dedicate her life’s work to the mission of Temple University.
She explained to the audience that her mom worked at Temple as a secretary for 40 years, and her first job as a teenager was in the campus bookstore. She joined Temple’s faculty in 1985, and her service included Dean of the Law School and Provost of the University. She said Temple had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember. It was in her title, but she wasn’t “acting.” There was no halfway for JoAnne. She was doing what she’d always done — dedicating herself completely to something she believed in.
It was the little things
JoAnne was so damn pure. She was brilliant, but she also had a Mister Rogers way of making you feel good about yourself and in small, but important ways, letting you know that she cared about you.
It was the little things. Everyone who knew her has a story about such a thing that JoAnne did that mattered to them. A call. A text to offer support or encouragement. JoAnne lived a life to aspire to. She cared deeply about people. About justice. About Temple. About Philadelphia.
I got to know JoAnne through the years in my roles as alumni volunteer leader, an Owl sports fan, a civic leader in Philadelphia, and a Trustee. She was always an alumni favorite because she innately understood the Temple University ethos. She did not graduate from Temple but she defined Temple Made — our roll-up-your sleeves and get-it-done attitude. She was our north star for what that phrase means on North Broad Street and around the world.
“If we want to be sure that our time here has meant something, we must ensure that we have handed off to those coming behind us a commitment — and a passion — to work for the best world possible.” — JoAnne Epps in her law school bio
Commencement at Temple is one of my favorite days of the year. This past May, as I walked toward the Liacouras Center, I saw JoAnne ahead of me. She inched along as student after student stopped her and asked for a picture with fellow students and family. She spoke to everyone who asked. I got in line and she took a picture with me. Later that day I sent the picture to her with a note: “Cheers. Thanks for the perfect graduation message! … and for stopping to take a picture with an admirer. ☺.” In typical JoAnne fashion, she responded: “Thanks, Bret. Admiration is mutual.”
JoAnne set a high standard which we should all strive to meet. I hope to someday be worthy of some portion of the admiration she received. We have a lot of work to do to fill in the gaping hole she leaves behind … But we don’t have to wonder what she would’ve said to us about how to carry on.
JoAnne’s law school bio includes this quote of hers: “If we want to be sure that our time here has meant something, we must ensure that we have handed off to those coming behind us a commitment — and a passion — to work for the best world possible.”
We got this, JoAnne. We love you and we’ll miss you, but we won’t forget the example you set for us.
Bret Perkins, a Citizen board member, is Senior Vice President of External and Government Affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal and a Temple University Trustee.
MORE PHILADELPHIANS WHO’VE MADE BIG DIFFERENCESActing Temple University President JoAnne Epps. Courtesy of Temple University.