MACHIAS (AP) – The president of the University of Maine at Machias died of an apparent heart attack Saturday in the midst of the school’s commencement activities, a university official said.

President John H. Joseph, 60, collapsed in Tory Hall as he was preparing to march with faculty and students into the 2 p.m. graduation ceremony, said John Diamond of the University of Maine system in Bangor.

Diamond said that students trained as emergency medical technicians performed CPR on Joseph before he was taken by ambulance to Downeast Community Hospital in Machias. He died at the hospital, a nursing supervisor said.

Joseph had been scheduled to preside over the graduation of 135 students inside the Frederic A. Reynolds Center, an athletic facility on campus.

When the ceremony began, officials did not know that Joseph had died, and Wickham Skinner, a University of Maine System trustee, took his place.

Skinner told an estimated crowd of 1,500 that Joseph had collapsed and been taken to the hospital, Diamond said.

Francine Cousteau, widow of the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, spoke and received an honorary degree at the ceremony. Cousteau traveled to Machias from Paris after receiving a personal invitation from Joseph, Diamond said.

Following the ceremony, faculty and staff gathered in the campus bookstore, where they were told that Joseph had died.

“This is a sad, sad day for our state,” said Joseph Westphal, chancellor of the University of Maine system. “John Joseph was a strong and visionary president who had made great strides in building his university’s quality and reputation.”

Gov. John Baldacci added, “John Joseph made a great impact on campus and in the community. He cared deeply about the students and made a great impact in connecting the University of Maine at Machias to the surrounding community, especially with his push for environmental studies.”

University officials said an announcement on an interim successor would be made in the near future.

Joseph, whose 27-year career in higher education included stints at Roosevelt University in Illinois and Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, had been president on the Machias campus since July 2000.

He is survived by his wife Marlene; his daughter Ashley McGettigan; and two grandchildren.

AP-ES-05-10-03 1822EDT

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