Oliver’s impact in Newark: ‘She loved us, and we loved her back’

Ruiz, Baraka offer touching tributes to lt. governor

The late Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver at an event in her beloved Newark. (File photo)

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver was a proud resident of East Orange for decades, but she never forgot her roots in Newark — a city that cherished her throughout her lifetime of public service.

Oliver, 71, died Tuesday.

A trailblazer, she will be known as the first Black woman to serve as Assembly speaker. And, when she took the oath to be lieutenant governor in January 2018, she became the highest-serving Black woman in state history.

But she was more than that in Newark, where she was born and raised.

Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) summed it up this way:

“Today, we bid farewell to a remarkable woman who was a trailblazer in this state, a friend to so many, but to me, family,” she said. “Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver embodied the spirit of a warrior; she was a fierce advocate for our communities and led with resilience and compassion. She was not only a fearless fighter for the voiceless, but she was also a pioneer who shattered glass ceilings and opened doors for so many women, and especially women of color. Born and raised in Newark, she carried the essence of her diverse upbringing throughout her distinguished career in public service.”

Ruiz said Oliver’s legacy will forever be etched in New Jersey’s history.

“Her passion for social justice, women’s equality and education was unwavering, and she used her position to advocate for a fairer and more equitable society,” she said. “As commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, she championed initiatives to provide fair and affordable housing, uplift distressed communities and prevent homelessness.

“Her impact extended beyond legislation; she touched the lives of countless individuals through mentorship and friendship. Her dedication to public service was rooted in the belief that government should work for the people, and she lived by that principle every day.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was equally profound.

“Newark is in mourning,” he said. “We’ve lost a favorite daughter, cherished and revered. Long before she was lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver mentored so many in our city — with wisdom, compassion, intelligence and a fierce dedication to diversity, equality, equity and justice.

“She loved us, and we loved her back.

“Sheila was probably the most knowledgeable elected official in the entire state, and an authoritative historian in her own right. Her biography is filled with many ‘firsts’ as a Black woman, but underlying her many accomplishments will always be the legacy and inspiration she leaves us with: to broaden our vision to see greater possibilities, to expand our embrace to include those on the fringes, and to deepen our commitment to democracy and liberty for all.”

Ruiz said the goal is to honor Oliver’s memory moving forward.

“Today, we mourn the loss of a true hero, advocate and friend,” she said. “Let us honor her memory by continuing the work she started, striving for a better, more just society for all New Jersey residents.

“Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, your light will forever shine in our hearts, and we pray that you understood the profound impact your service has had to this state. We are forever in your debt, and we will profoundly miss you. Rest in power, my sister.”