Much too soon after saying farewell to social justice champion Mit Joyner, we learned of the passing of New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, just days after temporarily assuming the duties as Governor during the absence of Governor Phil Murphy, who was with his family spending time at a home they own in Italy. Oliver was rushed to the hospital Monday and passed away yesterday at the age of 71. Social workers and many who respected her nationwide mourn the death of a champion for people, particularly those in distress. She received her MSW degree from Columbia University School of Social Work in 1976.
Lt. Governor Oliver was a trailblazer, making history as the first African American elected Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly and the second ever to lead a state legislative body after Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who was sworn in as Speaker of the California State Assembly on May 13, 2008, and served until March 1, 2010. Oliver served as Speaker from January 12, 2010, until January 12, 2014. She served as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs from January 16, 2018, until August 1, 2023, before being sworn in as Lt. Governor on January 16, 2018.
On Tuesday, Aug. 1, around 12:25 p.m., her family released a statement confirming her death:
“It is with incredible sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of the Honorable 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 [who] 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.”
“May her memory be a source of comfort and strength to all who knew her.”
No cause of death was provided at the time of the announcement. She was taken to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, Monday for an undisclosed medical issue that prevented her from carrying out her duties as acting governor. Democratic Senate President Nicholas Scutari substituted as mandated by the state constitution.
Governor Murphy issued the following statement:
“This is a heartbreaking loss for all of us who knew and admired Sheila Oliver. She touched the lives of countless people as a dedicated public official who worked tirelessly to improve opportunities for others. She has a record of accomplishment that is unmatched.
“I was fortunate to work closely with Sheila when she served in the Assembly and as Lieutenant Governor, where I gained even greater respect for her leadership skills and appreciation for her selfless human qualities.
“Sheila was a trailblazer who broke through glass ceilings to become the first woman of color to serve as Assembly Speaker and as Lieutenant Governor. I believe she will continue to be an inspiration for generations of young people.
“I extend my sincere condolences to the Oliver family in this time of grief. We share in your loss.”