NJ Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver Remembered As Trailblazer

By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern

New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver. Photo credit: State of New Jersey website.

SOUTH JERSEY – New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver died on Tuesday, August 1, 2023, at 71 years old, after being hospitalized on July 28 due to medical issues undisclosed to the public. Oliver was the first Black woman to hold statewide-elected office in New Jersey in 2018 and the second Black woman in the nation’s history to lead a house of a state legislature. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy released statements on the passing of Oliver on August 1. Murphy refers to Oliver as a “trailblazer in every sense of the word” and someone who brought “a unique and invaluable perspective” to the Garden State’s public policy discourse. 

“She was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable,” Governor Murphy stated. “We ask that you all keep the Oliver family and all those who knew and loved her in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.” 

The Oliver family released a statement on August 1 as well. “Sheila Y. Oliver leaves behind a legacy of dedication, service, and inspiration. We will remember her commitment to the people of New Jersey and her tireless efforts to uplift the community.” As Oliver’s family grieves, they ask, “As we come to terms with this profound loss, we kindly request that you respect the privacy of the Oliver family during this difficult time as they grieve their beloved Sheila.” 

Oliver was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, and was an East Orange local for over 40 years. She attended Lincoln University and continued her education at Columbia University. 

Years later, she served as a member of the Democratic Party, representing the 34th legislative district in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2004 to 2018. On November 23, 2009, Oliver was elected to be the 169th Speaker of the Assembly, making her the second woman to serve as Speaker in New Jersey history, the second African American to hold the post, and the second African American woman to lead a state legislature. 

“Sheila was a trailblazer who broke through glass ceilings to become the first woman of color to serve as Assembly Speaker and as Lieutenant Governor,” said New Jersey State Senate President Nicholas Scutari. “I believe she will continue to be an inspiration for generations of young people.” 

Oliver also ran for the U.S. Senate in 2013 but lost to Cory Booker. However, she won the 2017 gubernatorial election, was sworn into her position as Lieutenant Governor in 2018, and was re-elected with Governor Murphy for their second term in 2021. 

“In the five and a half years that we served together in office, in addition to her responsibilities as Lieutenant Governor, Sheila led the Department of Community Affairs, handling some of the most challenging issues facing our State, including the revitalization of our cities, affordable housing obligations, and homelessness prevention,” Governor Murphy stated. 

Now, New Jersey State Senate President Nicholas Scutari has taken on the duties of acting governor due to Oliver’s death while Governor Murphy is on vacation in Italy. Acting governors take their role when the current governor cannot fulfill the gubernatorial duties and work to perform powers and duties until the governor returns. 

“This is a heartbreaking loss for all of us who knew and admired Sheila Oliver,” said Scutari. “She touched the lives of countless people as a dedicated public official who worked tirelessly to improve opportunities for others. She has a record of accomplishment that is unmatched.”

The Oliver Family stated that, when available, additional information and details regarding a memorial will be provided. 

“May her memory be a source of comfort and strength to all who knew her,” they stated.

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