Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver has died

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, an influential and ceiling-crashing public servant for decades, has died.

Her family, through the Governor’s Office, made the announcement moments ago.

The statement:

“It is with incredible sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of the Hon. Sheila Y. Oliver, lieutenant governor of the state of New Jersey. She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend and hero.

“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.

“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.

“Further information and details regarding memorial arrangements will be provided in due course. Until then, we appreciate your understanding and support.

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

Gov. Phil Murphy, who is in Italy, released the following statement:

“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, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

“When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lt. Gov. 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 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.  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.  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.  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.”

Kim Guadagno, the state’s first lieutenant governor, shared her thoughts on the loss of a close friend.

“Sheila Oliver and I shared a unique bond, as the only lieutenant governors in the state of New Jersey,” she said. “We were friends, we shared insights into the role and a commitment to public service.  She was the kind of leader who inspired loyalty, as evidenced by her dedicated staff. This is a huge loss for the state of New Jersey and, for me personally, I lost a valued colleague.”

Oliver, 71, was taken to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston on Monday with an undisclosed medical condition.

Oliver, a self-described “Jersey girl,” was born and raised in an ethnically diverse Newark neighborhood — a childhood that helped pave the way for so many key roles in public life.

In 2003, she was elected to serve the 34th Legislative District in the Assembly — the start of a trailblazing career in public service. In 2010, she became the first African American woman in state history to serve as Assembly speaker, and just the second in the nation’s history to lead a state legislative house.

In addition to her role as lieutenant governor, she served as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, where she led efforts to strengthen and expand initiatives for fair and affordable housing, community revitalization, homelessness prevention and local government services that support New Jersey’s 564 municipalities.

Under her leadership, the department expanded and leveraged a wide range of initiatives aimed at assisting distressed municipalities, including the federal Opportunity Zones tax incentive, the Main Street New Jersey program, the Neighborhood Preservation Program, the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program and the Urban Enterprise Zone Program, which was renewed by legislation she signed in 2021.

A proud alumna of the Newark public school system, Oliver graduated cum laude from Lincoln University, and received her Master of Science in community organization, planning and administration from Columbia University. She has received honorary doctorates of humane letters from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Lincoln University, Montclair State University and Berkeley and Essex county colleges.

Oliver was a proud 40-plus-year resident of East Orange, where she treasured her time with her 95-year-old mother, who has always encouraged her to be a critical thinker while fostering her passion for helping people through effective public policy.

(This story will be updated frequently throughout the day.)