Sheila Oliver, the lieutenant governor of New Jersey, passes away at age 71

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver waves at the New Jersey Statehouse on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver waves at the New Jersey Statehouse on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.


Sheila Oliver, the lieutenant governor of New Jersey and the first Black woman to occupy statewide elective office in the Garden State, has passed away, according to her family. She was 71 years old.

The cause of death wasn’t made public right away.

The Oliver family released a statement on Tuesday that read, “She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero.” “Sheila Y. Oliver’s legacy of commitment, service, and inspiration is left behind. We shall never forget her dedication to the people of New Jersey and her ceaseless attempts to better the neighborhood.

Oliver was unable to serve as acting governor while Phil Murphy was on vacation, according to a statement from the office of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Monday. Nicholas Scutari, the president of the New Jersey State Senate, was named acting governor as of Monday morning, according to Murphy’s office.

According to her official government biography, Oliver, a Democrat who had held the office of lieutenant governor of New Jersey since January 2018, was the first woman of color to hold a statewide elected office in the state’s history. She was initially elected to the state general assembly in 2003, and in addition, she was the first Black woman to hold the position of speaker.

Oliver stated that she never intended to become a politician while speaking at a Columbia University commencement in 2019.

“I was asked to run on a friend’s ticket for the state Senate because he needed someone to complete his slate. I was merely serving as a campaign’s window decoration up until this point. He was defeated and I was victorious on election night. I became a state legislator after that, she recounted.“When I came to the legislature in ’04, the speaker at the time asked me what I wanted to specialize in. He said everyone tends to take up an area of specialization. I responded to the speaker, ‘I don’t want to specialize in one thing. I want to be involved in everything in the state legislature.’ And lo and behold, six years later, I became the speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.”

According to her profile, Oliver attended Lincoln University for her undergraduate studies before earning a master’s degree from Columbia University in community organization, planning, and administration.

Murphy expressed how “incredibly saddened and distraught” he and his family are to hear of Oliver’s loss.

Lieutenant Governor Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense when I chose her to be my running mate in 2017, according to a statement from Murphy. She was only the second Black woman in American history to preside over a chamber of a state legislature, and she had already made history as the first Black woman to hold the office of Speaker of the General Assembly. Then, I realized that she was the perfect co-leader for me to lead the State of New Jersey because of her many years of public service. The choice was the best one I had ever made.