New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died Tuesday, her family announced. She was 71.
“She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero,” the family said in a statement. “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.”
Gov. Phil Murphy’s office said in a statement Monday’s that Oliver was receiving medical care at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., with an undisclosed medical condition. The cause of her death was also not immediately known.
Oliver took over as acting governor on July 28, for a vacationing Murphy (D), but on Monday, his office announced that Oliver was receiving medical care and would be unable to continue her duties as acting governor. The state Senate’s president, Nicholas Scutari, was named acting governor Monday, per the state’s Constitution.
Murphy has 45 days to appoint a lieutenant governor who will serve the remainder of Oliver’s term, according to Mahen Gunaratna, a spokesman for the governor’s office. It’s a direct appointment, Gunaratna added, that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Oliver’s term was set to end alongside Murphy’s in 2026.
In a statement Tuesday, Murphy and his wife, Tammy, expressed sadness for the loss.
“When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense of the word,” Murphy said. “She had already made history as the first Black woman to serve as Speaker of the General Assembly, and just the second Black woman in the nation’s history to lead a house of a state legislature. I knew then that her decades of public service made her the ideal partner for me to lead the State of New Jersey. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Oliver, Murphy added, handled “some of the most challenging issues facing our State, including the revitalization of our cities, affordable housing obligations, and homelessness prevention.”
“As someone who was born and raised in Newark, and who has called East Orange home for more than 40 years, Sheila did not view these issues in the abstract because she lived with them every day of her life,” he wrote. “She brought a unique and invaluable perspective to our public policy discourse and served as an inspiration to millions of women and girls everywhere, especially young women of color.
“Beyond all of that, she was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable,” Murphy added.
New Jersey’s Democratic senators also mourned Oliver. In a tweet, Sen. Cory Booker said Oliver’s death is a “tremendous loss for New Jersey, for her family, and for all of us who loved and worked with her.” And Sen. Robert Menendez said in a statement Tuesday that he was “devastated” by Oliver’s passing. He said she was a “relentless voice for the voiceless, a passionate advocate for the disadvantaged, and a champion for the most important issues facing the Garden State.”
“Lieutenant Governor Oliver was an inspiration to all of us who dream of an equal and prosperous future,” he said, noting a keynote address she delivered in 2018 at his annual Women of Distinction awards ceremony, in which she called for investing in working-class women and families.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said she was “heartbroken” by Oliver’s death.
“Sheila was a trailblazer who embodied the meaning of public service, and a fierce advocate for the people of New Jersey,” Hochul said.
A graduate of Lincoln University and Columbia University, Oliver took office as lieutenant governor in 2018, and in that role, she signed a number of bills into law, including measures that strengthened equal pay and protected workers from wage theft.