Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died Tuesday at the age of 71. Oliver, who was born and raised in Newark, was the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in New Jersey and the second African American woman to lead a state legislative house in the history of the United States. In a statement released by her family on Tuesday, the family commemorated Oliver’s work in public office and the person she was.
“She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend and hero,” Oliver’s family said.
During her leadership, Oliver established initiatives for affordable housing and restorative youth programs. Oliver had also served as a member of both the East Orange Board of Education and the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The Montclair NAACP called Oliver a “trailblazer in every sense of the world,” and remembered her successful career in public service advocating for social justice, women’s equality, and education.
Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller said in a statement, “Lt. Governor Oliver was a trailblazer, ceiling breaker, brilliant and compassionate leader. Her passing leaves a void in our party, our state and our Essex County community. Lieutenant Governor Oliver’s leadership, and friendship will be sorely missed.”
Councilor-at-Large, Peter Yacobellis said, “Rest in Power, friend of Montclair, staunch ally for the queer community and trailblazer for women of color.”
Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings offered his condolences to the family and said of Oliver, “A leader for all. A special lady who will go down in history and never be forgotten.”
“I’ve had the privilege to know Sheila Oliver through many of her roles in Essex County and in state government,” said Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams. “It was a thrill to see this competent and caring woman operating in the halls of power, culminating in powerful roles, where she brought up other women with her and got things done. My last interactions with her were about improving food desert policies. The breadth of her character and her deep humanity, often with a candid welling of emotion, were always on display in her comments at the Essex County Eagle Rock September 11th Memorial during the annual commemoration. I will miss her presence in public life.”
Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, recalled a memory of Oliver at his wedding.
“My wife, Alixon, and I were very honored to have Sheila attend our wedding, where I inadvertently provided her with an opportunity to observe and critique my dancing. Sheila never again let an opportunity pass to remind me of my lack of talent, and woeful inferiority to Alixon, on the dance floor. These are my most cherished memories of our relationship.”
Further information regarding memorial services will be released in the coming days, said Oliver’s family in a statement.
“Sheila Y. Oliver 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.”