At Wednesday’s vigil in honor of Acting President JoAnne Epps, Marylouise Esten shared stories from her 30-year friendship with the president — from Epps’ love of writing and tendency to be the “grammar police,” to her habit of mentoring all she met.
“She was a friend,” said Esten, vice president and chief of staff. “JoAnne knew how to cultivate and nurture friendships. Once she told me that when she was small, she didn’t know how to be a friend and her mother had to teach her. I found that impossible to believe. To be embraced by JoAnne’s friendship and love was an incredibly special gift.”
Hundreds of students, faculty and community members gathered around the Bell Tower Wednesday afternoon to commemorate the life of Epps, who passed away after collapsing at a university event Tuesday afternoon.
Epps, 72, served the Temple community for 38 years, starting at the university as a faculty member at the Beasley School of Law after her tenure as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia and Deputy City Attorney in Los Angeles. Her first job as a teenager was working as a cashier at Temple’s bookstore, and she is remembered for her love and devotion to the university.
Temple faculty, including Assistant Dean of Klein College of Media and Communication David Brown, former President Richard Englert, Provost Gregory Mandel and Esten, shared their memories of Epps and emphasized her ability to bring the community together during the 30-minute vigil.
At noon, Brown opened the ceremony with a prayer of gratitude.
“We are grateful for the life and legacy that is Dr. JoAnne Epps,” Brown said. “We are grateful that her life will inspire, enlighten and activate us going forward.”
After Brown’s welcoming prayer, he invited Englert to the stage.
Englert, who worked with then-Provost Epps during his tenure as president from 2016 to 2020, delivered a speech highlighting Epps’ giving and optimistic nature. He acknowledged the large crowd as evidence of Epps’ ability to bring a community together.
“She brought all of us together in love and common purpose just as she has done for the 38 years since she’s been at Temple University, since 1985,” Englert said.
Mandel took the stage following Englert’s speech. He remarked on Epps’ caring nature and dedication to all members of the Temple community and shared anecdotes of her attention to detail.
“She had an innate capability to connect with everyone, with our students who she adored beyond measure, with our faculty and with our staff, with our alumni and others,” Mandel said. “She always made you feel seen and empowered and appreciated in her presence. She was devoted to making sure that everyone got the opportunity to realize their own extraordinary potential.”
Epps’ gift of connecting with others was especially apparent when she assumed the role of acting president in April after the resignation of former President Jason Wingard.
The change in leadership and Epps’ presence comforted students amid a particularly tumultuous semester.
“She just had this presence that almost gave more hope and things felt like they were getting better, I felt like we were in good hands,” said Jacqueline Johnson, a junior jazz performance major who sang at the vigil.
Epps will be remembered as the first Black woman to lead the university, which was uplifting for many students.
“The fact that we had a Black female president said enough, it was really big for me as a Black woman,” said Tori Edwards, a sophomore advertising major.
Mandel then introduced Esten, someone he refers to as a “sister” of the president. She was a close friend and coworker of Epps for more than 30 years.
Esten recalled Epps’ habit of referring to the university community as the “Temple Family” and encouraged the audience to seek solace in that connection.
“For this year ahead as president, JoAnne wanted nothing more than to bring us all together and to remind us of why we are here and of our shared commitment to a mission that inspires our work and to values that we all hold dear,” Esten said. “We come together. We support each other. We carry on. Like this university, JoAnne Epps changed lives. That’s what she asked us to do. That is her legacy. We are her legacy.”
As Esten departed the stage, she was met with embraces and words of comfort from those around her.
Brown then led the crowd in a moment of intentional silence, encouraging attendees to reflect on Epps’ legacy and the impact she’d made on Temple.
Johnson concluded the ceremony with a rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which brought the crowd to tears. Audience members exchanged embraces and words of support as the ceremony came to a close.