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Sheila Oliver, the history-making lieutenant governor from New Jersey, passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday. Oliver, who served as New Jersey’s second-highest elected official since 2018, was rushed to the hospital on Monday.
Oliver’s family released a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing her passing with “incredible sadness”.
“She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend and hero.”
Sheila Oliver was only the fourth Black woman to serve as Lt. Governor in US History. She was also the first Black woman to to serve as the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, and the second in the nation to lead a state house legislature.
At the time of her medical emergency, Oliver was serving as acting-Governor. Phil Murphy, New Jersey’s Governor, was away in Italy.
In a statement, Governor Murphy called picking Oliver to be his running mate in 2017 “the best decision I ever made”.
“She was an incredibly kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable,” Murphy said.
Oliver used her position and power to fight for New Jersey families
Oliver grew up in Newark, New Jersey, before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She graduated cum laude before moving on to pursue her Masters’ degree at Columbia.
Long before winning the election to serve as Lt. Governor, Oliver began forging her own path in politics. She served on her local school board for several years before running for mayor of East Orange in 1997. She came closer than any woman ever had to winning the office at the time, losing by just 51 votes.
Oliver soon went on to launch a storied career in the New Jersey general assembly, fighting for equal access and opportunity for everyone in the state.
Outside of politics, Sheila Oliver was a constant and fierce community advocate. She was a lead voice for housing equity in her hometown of Newark, forging an alliance called the Newark Coalition for Low Income Housing.
In a one of her prominent campaigns, Oliver advocated for residents displaced by the demolition of a subsidized housing unit. Her work pushed the federal government to force the City of Newark to build new affordable housing units to avoid displacement.
“I will spend every minute of my time working to make this state better,” Oliver said in 2017.
“For women, for children, for families and for every single constituency group up and down the state of New Jersey.”
It was a promise Oliver undeniably kept each and every day in office.