🔴 Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver was the second person to hold the office in New Jersey

🔴 She was hospitalized Monday and gave up acting governor duties

🔴 Gov. Phil Murphy will cut short his vacation to Italy

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver has passed away at the age of 71. She had been hospitalized at Cooper Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for an undisclosed illness.

"When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense of the word," Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement.

"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."

READ MORE: Sadness across NJ over death of Sheila Oliver

Sheila Oliver
AP file photo

Oliver had become the acting governor Friday when Murphy left for a family vacation to Italy. On Monday, state Senate President Nick Scutari took over when Oliver became unable to perform the duties of the office for an undisclosed medical reason.

Murphy will be returning "soon" from Italy, spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna said. A specific date was not provided. He was scheduled to return to New Jersey on Aug. 13.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver
Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (Lt Gov. Sheila Oliver)

New Jersey's second lieutenant governor

Oliver's family announced her death in a separate statement and asked for privacy.

"She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero," the family said in its 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."

The family did not disclose funeral plans.

Sheila Oliver
New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver speaks to supporters during an election night party in Asbury Park, N.J., Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, file)

Oliver was the state's second lieutenant governor since Kim Guadagno first filled the elected post in 2010. Kim Guadagno was the first person to hold the office under Gov. Chris Christie.

She served in the Assembly since 2004 and was on the Essex County board of chosen freeholders from 1996 to 1999. She was born and raised in Newark and has a sociology degree from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver speaks at memorial for Memorial for Eunice Dwumfour 2/8/23
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver speaks at memorial for Memorial for Eunice Dwumfour 2/8/23 (Borough of Sayreville via YouTube)

Compelling speaker

Oliver was a compelling public speaker and frequent attendee at Murphy’s bill signings and other events, where he typically introduced her as his “rocking” lieutenant governor.

In 2021 while unveiling tighter gun legislation alongside Murphy, Oliver’s voice cracked as she lamented the gun violence that disproportionately affected cities in the state. Speaking in her native Newark, Oliver lamented what she suggested was runaway gun violence.

Sheila Oliver
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver during a bill signing ceremony at the state capital in Trenton, N.J., Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

It was unclear who would immediately succeed her. The state constitution calls for the state Senate president to serve as acting governor if the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state or incapacitated. The constitution requires Murphy to appoint Oliver’s successor within 45 days.

(Includes material copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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