Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, the first Black woman to serve as the state’s Assembly speaker and as lieutenant governor, died Tuesday at the age of 71. https://apnews.com/article/new-jersey-sheila-oliver-obituary-a675170db55ec88f797432c06809f0ea
A self-described “Jersey Girl,” born and raised in Newark, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was inspired as a young girl to be a fighter for the voiceless when her eyes were opened to societal injustices and inequities around her, often citing “A Tale of Two Cities” as her youth awakening. She has since pioneered a successful career in public service advocating for social justice, women’s equality, and education, ultimately becoming the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in New Jersey history. In 2021, Lt. Governor Oliver was reelected to serve a second term in office.
“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, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lieutenant Governor 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.”
Oliver was inspired as a young girl to be a fighter for the voiceless when her eyes were opened to societal injustices and inequities around her, often citing “A Tale of Two Cities” as her youth awakening. She had since pioneered a successful career in public service advocating for social justice, women’s equality, and education, ultimately becoming the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in New Jersey history. In 2021, Lt. Governor Oliver was reelected to serve a second term in office.
In addition to her role as Lieutenant Governor, she served as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, where she has 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 also 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.
In her role as Acting Governor, she had signed multiple bills into law, including those that established a Caregiver Task Force to identify ways to support people taking care of loved ones who are elderly or disabled, require all public school students in grades 6-8 to receive financial literacy education, strengthen equal pay for equal work by preventing employers from asking employees’ previous salary history, and protect employees from wage theft. She also signed into law legislation that established a Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program within the Juvenile Justice Commission to help divert youth from entering and re-entering the juvenile justice system.
Lieutenant Governor Oliver worked in the public, non-profit, and private sectors throughout her career and has taught numerous college courses. She was a member of the East Orange Board of Education and the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
In 2003, she was elected to serve the 34th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly.
A trailblazer in every sense of the word, 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.
A proud alumna of the Newark public school system, Lieutenant Governor Oliver graduated cum laude from Lincoln University, and received her Master of Science Degree 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 University and Berkeley and Essex County Colleges.
She was a longtime 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.