New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver was rushed to the hospital Monday, according to an announcement from the governor’s office. Oliver died tragically the following day. She was 71.
Just prior to her death, Oliver had been serving as acting governor. She assumed the responsibility in July, amid Gov. Phil Murphy’s vacation to his home in Italy.
Oliver had been admitted to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston with an undisclosed medical condition, the governor’s office said Monday, declining to elaborate.
Murphy spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna said the governor would be “returning soon” but didn’t specify when. He was set to return Aug. 13.
No cause of death was given, Murphy’s office said in a statement from the Oliver family. Murphy said he and his family are distraught at the news. Naming Oliver as his lieutenant governor was, he said, “the best decision I ever made.”
Oliver achieved statewide attention in 2010 by becoming the speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly. She had served in the chamber since 2004, and she was elected to the speakership unanimously by the Assembly Democrats.
Born and raised in Newark, she earned a sociology degree from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University before moving back to the Newark area and joining the Essex County board of chosen freeholders in 1996.
Oliver had served as acting governor before, in 2021. During that time, she signed a handful of bills including a measure that established a pilot program to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system in four localities and which aimed to reintegrate young people into their communities.
As lieutenant governor, Oliver served as Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s top deputy, and she oversaw the Department of Community Affairs, which coordinates state aid to towns and cities and supervises code enforcement.
She became known as a charismatic public speaker and a frequent attendee at Murphy’s bill signings and other events, where he typically introduced her as his “rocking” lieutenant governor.
“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,” Murphy said in a statement Tuesday. “Beyond all of that, she was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable.”
She was twice elected lieutenant governor alongside Murphy beginning in 2017 and again in 2021. Oliver was just the second person to hold the post of lieutenant governor, a newer state government position that began under previous Gov. Chris Christie.
Following Oliver’s hospitalization, the state Senate president began serving as acting governor, in accordance with the state’s constitutionally mandated order of succession.
The state’s constitution requires Murphy to appoint Oliver’s successor within 45 days.
It remains unclear who will take Oliver’s place.
Take a look at some remarks from Oliver —
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver has died … She often was in Atlantic City … Here she talks about the future of clean and safe in the city … https://t.co/F42SxdoVAB @AtlanticCityGov via @BreakingAC pic.twitter.com/GqwTnGdXaK
— Lynda Cohen (@LyndaCohen) August 1, 2023
Gov-Elect @PhilMurphyNJ takes his seat w Lt Gov Elect Sheila Oliver at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark for an interfaith service in their honor. Welcomed by Cardinal Tobin & Mayor Baraka, & applause from congregation pic.twitter.com/qjXg9J7ooM
— Brenda Flanagan (@BFlanaganNJ) January 12, 2018
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.