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August 01, 2023

New Jersey's Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, 71, dies

She was hospitalized on Monday for undisclosed reasons. Oliver had been serving as acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy is on vacation

Government Obituaries
sheila oliver dies Thomas P. Costello/USA TODAY NETWORK

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died a day after being hospitalized on Monday, July 31, 2023, with an undisclosed illness. She was 71. This photo of Oliver was taken Feb. 8, 2023.

Sheila Oliver, New Jersey's lieutenant governor, died at the age of 71, her family announced on Tuesday. Oliver had been hospitalized Monday at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for undisclosed reasons.

"Sheila Y. Oliver leaves behind a legacy of dedication, service, and inspiration," Oliver's family said in a tweet. "We will remember her commitment to the people of New Jersey and her tireless efforts to uplift the community."

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On Friday, Oliver assumed the role of acting New Jersey governor while Gov. Phil Murphy left the country for a family vacation in Italy. After Oliver's hospitalization, responsibility subsequently fell to the third person in the chain of command, state Senate President Nick Scutari. 

Murphy reacted to the news of Oliver's passing on Tuesday.

"Tammy and I, and our children, are incredibly saddened and distraught to learn of the passing of our dear friend, colleague, and partner in government, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver," Murphy said.

"When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense of the word. 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."

In 2003, Oliver was elected to serve the 34th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly, and in 2010 she became the first Black woman in New Jersey history to serve as Assembly speaker.

She was Democratic gubernatorial nominee Murphy's running mate in 2017, and was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2018, becoming the first woman of color elected to statewide office in New Jersey. In 2021, she was reelected to a second term in office.

In addition to her role as lieutenant governor, Oliver served as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, where she led efforts to expand initiatives for affordable housing, community revitalization, homelessness prevention and local government services. As acting governor, she signed multiple bills into law, including establishing a caregiver task force, requiring public schools to teach financial literacy, strengthening equal and fair pay and preventing youth from entering the juvenile justice system.

Oliver is a Newark native who graduated cum laude from Lincoln University and earned her Master of Science in community organization, planning and administration from Columbia University. Oliver also holds several honorary doctorates.

Condolences from the state's prominent political figures poured in on social media Tuesday.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the Honorable Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, a trailblazer and dedicated public servant," New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said. "I will miss her and her inspiring leadership and yet her legacy will live on for countless generations to come."

"It is a sad day for NJ and for me personally," former Governor Chris Christie said. "The passing of Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver is a loss for our state. I will miss Sheila. She served as Speaker in my first term and we treated each other with kindness and respect. We got things done. She was a great person and partner."

"New Jersey is a better place because of Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver's service," Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill said. "Her legacy will be an inspiration for generations to come. I send my deepest condolences to her family as they grieve during this difficult time."

"Lieutenant Governor Shiela Oliver is a hero," Attorney General Matthew Platkin said. "Her life was marked by service - to her community, her county, her state, and her country. Millions of New Jerseyans live in a more just and equitable state thanks to her efforts ... The world needs more Sheila Olivers. May she rest in peace."

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