New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died Tuesday, according to a statement issued by Oliver’s family. Oliver, 71, who was the first Black woman elected to statewide office in New Jersey, was serving as acting governor at the time of her death. Although Oliver had faced health challenges for some time, her death has come as a shock to her colleagues and admirers around the country, who are remembering her as a trailblazer, a mentor and a champion for her community.
Illness while serving as acting governor
Oliver died Tuesday after being taken to the hospital Monday. Oliver had been serving as acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy was on vacation in Italy. On Monday, her office passed the role of acting governor to New Jersey Senate President Nick Scutari, as Oliver had been taken to the hospital and was “unable to discharge the duties of acting governor.” Her cause of death has not been publicly disclosed, but The New York Times reported that some people close to her had known about her facing health challenges for months.
A legacy of trailblazing
Oliver is being remembered as a trailblazer. After growing up near Newark, New Jersey, Oliver left the state for Pennsylvania to earn a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University, one of the nation’s oldest HBCUs, and a masters degree from Columbia University. Oliver returned to New Jersey and began her political career, which included a stint serving on the East Orange School Board. In 2010, she became the first Black woman to lead the New Jersey State Assembly and only the second Black woman to lead a legislative chamber in any state. In 2017, she was elected lieutenant governor on the ticket of Gov. Philip Murphy, becoming the first Black woman to hold statewide elected office in New Jersey.
Remembered for her service to her community and her state
As news of her death broke, condolences and remembrances quickly poured in from Oliver’s colleagues and friends. Murphy posted that he and his family “are incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and partner in government.”
Tammy and I, and our children, are incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and partner in government, @LtGovOliver.
We ask that you all keep the Oliver family and all those who loved her in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/ty6drz7DgY
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) August 1, 2023
Sen. Cory Booker described Oliver as “a trailblazer whose legacy of service will long be remembered.”
This a tremendous loss for New Jersey, for her family, and for all of us who loved and worked with her.
Sheila Oliver was a trailblazer whose legacy of service will long be remembered.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 1, 2023
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka described Oliver as someone who “mentored so many in our city – with wisdom, compassion, intelligence, and a fierce dedication to diversity, equality, equity, and justice.”
Newark is in mourning. We’ve lost a favorite daughter, cherished and revered. Long before she was Lieutenant Governor, Sheila Oliver mentored so many in our city – with wisdom, compassion, intelligence, and a fierce dedication to diversity, equality, equity, and justice.
— Ras J. Baraka (@rasjbaraka) August 1, 2023
Stacey Abrams remembered Oliver as a political leader who “made space for the marginalized, the strivers and those who dared to dream.”
As a legislator, executive and leader, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver made space for the marginalized, the strivers and those who dared to dream. My condolences to her family and all who had the honor to call her friend. #SheilaOliver https://t.co/9i03CJq3YK
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) August 1, 2023
Dionne Warwick, a New Jersey native, called Oliver a “dear friend” and described her death as “a truly heartbreaking loss.”
My dear friend Sheila Oliver, the Lt. Gov. of New Jersey has made her transition. Her passing comes to us all as a truly heartbreaking loss. My deepest condolences to her family and those like myself who really had the privilege of knowing and working with her. pic.twitter.com/KsfxwOSvvL
— Dionne Warwick (@dionnewarwick) August 2, 2023
Oliver’s family has requested that members of the public “respect the privacy of the Oliver family during this difficult time as they grieve their beloved Sheila.” As her family continues to mourn her loss, her life and legacy will no doubt be celebrated by those who knew her or were impacted by her work in New Jersey.