New Jersey officials and lawmakers are paying tribute and offering condolences to the Oliver family after Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver died Tuesday morning at the age of 71.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Oliver was an "incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable." He said choosing her to be his running mate for two elections was "the best decision I ever made."
State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said he knew Oliver from his first day in the legislature and recalled serving under her when she was speaker.
"I had a front row seat to see her break the glass ceiling and become New Jersey’s first Black woman speaker, and New Jersey’s first Black lieutenant governor," Coughlin said. "Sheila was an extraordinary person. She was deeply committed to the people she served, and the state she loved. We will miss her wisdom, leadership, and passion."
Attorney General Matthew Platkin called Oliver a "hero" in a statement.
"She was brilliant. She was fearless. And she was unfailingly kind. Her life was marked by service – to her community, her county, her state, and her country," he said. "Millions of New Jerseyans live in a more just and equitable state thanks to her efforts… she was a trailblazer and an inspiration to us all. She showed young women, in particular, that truly anything is possible."
State Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz said Oliver "embodied the spirit of a warrior, she was a fierce advocate for our communities and led with resilience and compassion."
Republican leaders also gave tribute. State Senate Minority Leader Antony Bucco said Oliver's "legacy will forever live on as a trailblazer for women in New Jersey, becoming not only the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the General Assembly, but also just the second in the nation to lead a legislative body." He recalled "fond memories" of working with her and praised her "friendship."
Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio called Oliver "a grounded leader who stood up for the concerns of her community" and said "she was a force, but not forceful."
Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who is running for president, said Tuesday was "a sad day for NJ and for me personally."
"The passing of Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver is a loss for our state," he said. "I will miss Sheila. She served as speaker in my first term, and we treated each other with kindness and respect. We got things done. She was a great person and partner."
Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker also issued statements remarking on Oliver's passing. Menendez called Oliver an "inspiration to all of us who dream of an equal and prosperous future." Booker said her death was a "tremendous loss for New Jersey, for her family and for all of us who loved and worked with her."
Various members of New Jersey's congressional delegation remembered Oliver as a "pathbreaker," "fighter" and "advocate for the economically disadvantaged."
No cause of death was given in a statement from Oliver's family announcing her passing on Tuesday. Oliver was serving as acting governor while Murphy and his family are on vacation in Italy. His office said she had been hospitalized on Monday.
She was the first Black woman to hold statewide elected office in New Jersey, winning the vote alongside Murphy in 2017 and again in 2021. She was a well-known figure in state government, and made history in 2010 by becoming the first Black woman to lead the state Assembly. Her sudden death shocked state officials.
It is unclear who will succeed Oliver as lieutenant governor. New Jersey's Constitution requires Murphy to appoint Oliver's successor within 45 days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.