TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a prominent figure who broke barriers as the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the state assembly, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 71.
Oliver was appointed as the top deputy to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, assuming his responsibilities during his absence and also overseeing the Department of Community Affairs. The department plays a crucial role in coordinating state aid to towns and cities while supervising code enforcement.
The news of Oliver's hospitalization was announced by Gov. Phil Murphy's office on Monday when she was filling in for him while he was on a family vacation in Italy. The cause of her death has not been disclosed yet, according to a statement from Murphy's office on behalf of the Oliver family. Murphy expressed his deep sorrow at the loss and highlighted his belief that appointing Oliver as his lieutenant governor was the best decision he ever made.
During her time as acting governor, Oliver signed several bills into law, including a significant measure in 2021. This legislation established a pilot program that aimed to revitalize the state's juvenile justice system in four cities and facilitate the reintegration of young individuals into their communities.
Oliver's hospitalization was initially announced on July 31 while she was temporarily assuming the governor's duties. She received medical care at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for an undisclosed medical condition; however, specific details were not provided by the governor's office.
The governor's spokesperson, Mahen Gunaratna, mentioned that Gov. Murphy would be returning to New Jersey soon, but an exact date was not provided. Murphy was originally scheduled to come back on August 13.
In 2010, Oliver made history as the first Black woman to serve as assembly speaker until she lost the position to Assemblyman Vincent Prieto in 2013. Prior to her role in the assembly, she served on the Essex County board of chosen freeholders from 1996 to 1999. Born and raised in Newark, Oliver earned a sociology degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
Sheila Oliver's legacy as a trailblazer and advocate for change will be remembered in New Jersey and beyond. Her contributions to public service have left an indelible mark, paving the way for future generations of leaders.
Remembering Sheila Oliver: A Dedicated Public Servant
Sheila Oliver, the esteemed lieutenant governor of New Jersey, will be remembered as a remarkable individual who made a significant impact on public policy discourse. Her powerful presence and unwavering dedication were evident in her role as a frequent attendee at bill signings and various events alongside Governor Murphy. Oliver's passionate speeches and inspiring words made her an invaluable figure, not only for women and girls but also for the entire community.
In 2021, while standing alongside Governor Murphy during the announcement of stricter gun legislation, Oliver's voice cracked with emotion as she addressed the issue of gun violence, particularly its disproportionate effect on cities within the state. Expressing her deep concern in her hometown of Newark, she lamented the rise of gun violence that had tragically deprived many families of their loved ones.
"We are tired of attending funerals and memorials," Oliver expressed. "During my upbringing in Newark, I could freely explore any part of the city alone or with friends. Unfortunately, our young people cannot enjoy the same freedom today."
Oliver served as lieutenant governor twice, beginning in 2017 and then again in 2021, working side by side with Governor Murphy. As the second person to hold this esteemed position, Oliver left an indelible mark on New Jersey's state government. The establishment of the lieutenant governor role occurred during the tenure of former Governor Chris Christie.
As news of her departure broke, the immediate successor to Sheila Oliver remained uncertain. As per the state constitution, if both the governor and lieutenant governor are absent or unable to perform their duties, the state Senate president assumes the role of acting governor. However, it is Governor Murphy's responsibility to appoint Oliver's successor within a period of 45 days.
Sheila Oliver will forever be remembered for her invaluable contributions to public service and her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of the people she served. Her genuine kindness, friendship, and partnership will be greatly missed, leaving behind an irreplaceable legacy.
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