Rest in Peace My Friend: A Tribute to JoAnne Epps


On September 19, 2023, JoAnne Epps passed away suddenly as she was preparing to share remarks at her beloved Temple University where she had spent most of her career, ultimately serving as its acting President. Following her death, the University accorded her the well-deserved honor of naming her the 13th University President. She made an unparalleled impact on the institution. Her sudden, unexpected death left so many people in the Philadelphia region and nationally mourning for the loss of a singular trailblazer and community leader.  In the weeks following her death, colleagues and students, elected officials and citizens, friends and family shared their personal stories of how JoAnne touched their lives. 

Much has also been written about her commitment to Temple University, where her mother worked, and where JoAnne worked in the bookstore as a teenager. Since JoAnne returned to Temple, after a stint as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles and an Assistant United States Attorney in Philadelphia, she made a unique contribution in every position she held. Starting as a law professor before serving as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Dean of the law school, JoAnne always had a warm smile and a kind word of encouragement for all she encountered. Even with a plate overflowing with responsibilities, it was common to see JoAnne hosting a ground of law students for lunch providing them with guidance on navigating the legal profession. She was particularly committed to mentoring students representing historically marginalized groups.  She understood they faced extraordinary challenges and she sought to make their path just a bit smoother. 

After serving as law school Dean, JoAnne was elevated to University Provost and advisor to the President. And when the University was facing turbulent times, she answered the call to take the helm even though she was on the cusp of long-awaited retirement.  JoAnne loved Temple and was willing to serve navigating the institution through a series of daunting challenges.  She had the intelligence, integrity, and insight to bring disparate groups together and to calm tense situations.  She was the ideal woman for the role she was made to fill.  

Looking beyond these stellar accomplishments, I am reminded of the person I knew one-on-one.  Notably, so many have conveyed how close they felt to JoAnne even after an occasional encounter.  She made everyone who crossed her path feel they were the most important person and that their concerns and dreams mattered.  For me, I first encountered JoAnne when she was on the Temple Law faculty.  It was 1989 and I remember I was pregnant with my daughter.  After attending a trial advocacy program led by JoAnne, my husband came home and told me that she was someone I had to meet.  And so my 30-plus-year friendship with JoAnne began.  Over coffee and conversation, lunch and laughter, and also tea and tears, I was one of those privileged to benefit from her kindness and thoughtful advice.  She was a source of support during many of the most challenging phases of my career. JoAnne is irreplaceable and she is missed. She left an indelible imprint on so many of us who were fortunate enough to share her precious time. Rest in peace, my friend.