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Temple University president JoAnne Epps laid to rest in moving celebration of life

Celebration of life: Temple University president JoAnne Epps laid to rest
Celebration of life: Temple University president JoAnne Epps laid to rest 01:50

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Late Temple University President JoAnne Epps was "truly remarkable," like "a family member" and "a diamond in our midst," alumni and wellwishers said Friday at a funeral at the Liacouras Center.

Epps, a Philadelphia-area native and the first Black woman to serve as Temple's president, died on Sept. 19 after falling ill at a memorial service, leaving the university's top job vacant and devastating students, trustees and alumni, particularly in the legal community.

Temple's Liacouras Center, itself named after a former president, hosted two viewings and a celebration of life for Epps on Thursday and Friday. The open casket in the basketball arena was emblazoned with the cherry red Temple "T" logo on the inside of the lid, and surrounded by red and white flowers.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro sent a special video tribute that was played at the ceremony.  

First a campus bookstore cashier before becoming a city prosecutor in Los Angeles and a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, Epps came back to Temple in 1985 and served as a professor in the Beasley School of Law. She was named the dean of the law school in 2008.

Epps was then tapped to serve as executive vice president and provost from 2016 to 2021.

Epps was serving as acting president while the university searched for a permanent hire after the resignation of Jason Wingard. She put off her retirement and stepped into the role.

The university says she was once on President Barack Obama's shortlist to be a Supreme Court nominee.

Danielle Banks, a Temple law alumna and partner at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, said Epps was "a diamond in our midst, as Russell Conwell might have said." She's referring to Temple's founder, whose "Acres of Diamonds" speech inspired the university's mission.

"She was the epitome of grace. She gave grace to others no matter what they did. She was truly an amazing leader, educator, friend and mentor," Banks said.

Banks said Epps was a pivotal figure within the university, working tirelessly to be an advocate for minorities.

"For us, Black lawyers in the sometimes-unforgiving legal world that she knew we were navigating on a daily basis, the guiding hand of someone who looked like us, meant the world," Banks said.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has known Epps for years.

"It's a substantial loss, I loved her. She was like a big sister," Kenney said. "And she was one of the iconic figures here at Temple University...I look at Coach [John] Chaney and her as similar kind of figures, different personalities, but similar to their impact on the university."

Kenney also attended a memorial service at the Bell Tower. There weren't just trustees and students but also security guards, cafeteria workers and maintenance workers.

"Everybody loved her," Kenney said. "She was a loving person and I'll miss her terribly."

Jennifer Griffin, Temple's vice president of public safety, has only known Epps for about a year but quickly learned how important she was to the school community.

"We're all devastated," Griffin said. "President Epps was not just our leader, but she was a mentor to many of us. She was a counselor, she was a colleague. So I think we're all just continuing to try to manage day to day and remember how important her legacy was and how we're moving forward."

"She has colleagues and friends who have been here for 30 to 40 years and she is a family member to them, she is a godmother to some of their children," Griffin added. "She was more than just a professor, more than the provost, more than a president to all of us."

Epps will be interred at Fairview Cemetery in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

Family and the university request a donation to the JoAnne A. Epps Memorial Funds in lieu of flowers.

All classes on Temple's campuses were canceled Friday so that students and faculty could attend the service.

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