Condolences poured in from all corners for Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who died Tuesday at the age of 71.

Oliver had begun serving as acting governor Friday during Gov. Phil Murphy's vacation to Italy but on Monday turned over the office to state Sen. President Nick Scutari Monday when she was hospitalized at Cooper Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for an undisclosed illness.

Oliver was the second person to hold the office of lieutenant governor. The first was also held by a woman — Republican Kim Guadagno, who took office in 2010. In the 2017 gubernatorial election with Oliver as Murphy's running mate, she became the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office.

Gov. Phil Murphy said selecting her as lieutenant governor in 2017 was the "best decision I ever made."

Scutari called Oliver's death the "heartbreaking loss" of someone who worked tirelessly to improve opportunities for others.

“Sheila was a trailblazer who broke through glass ceilings to become the first woman of color to serve as Assembly Speaker and as Lieutenant Governor. I believe she will continue to be an inspiration for generations of young people," Scutari said.

A pioneer in public service

Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, said Oliver was a pioneer in public service.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver. Sheila was a compassionate and accomplished legislator. For so many years she devoted her life to public service to improve the lives of all New Jerseyans. For over a decade, I was fortunate enough to work with Sheila in the General Assembly during her time as an Assemblywoman, and her eventual rise to Speaker of the General Assembly," Greenwald said.

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, D-Essex (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media)
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, D-Essex (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media)

NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka, whose organization often opposed some of the Democratic administration's initiatives, said Oliver's death was a "sad day for the state" and focused on Oliver's cooperative efforts with business leaders.

"Beyond being a loyal public servant to the state, especially in her leadership role with the Department of Community Affairs, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was also a strong and inspirational advocate for women business owners over the years. We were always appreciative of her working with NJBIA in our collective pursuit of advancing women’s leadership in our great state," Siekerka said.

First black Assembly speaker

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J. 3rd District, noted that the Democrat from Essex County would be "forever enshrined" in state history for being the first Black speaker of the Assembly.

"Sheila Oliver was a giant in New Jersey," Kim said on social media. "[H]er work on affordable housing will have positive impacts here for generations to come. NJ has lost a great, dedicated public servant."

U.S. Rep. Tom Kean, R-N.J. 7th District, who for many years served in the State Senate, said Oliver "was a dedicated public servant who brought passion, integrity, and compassion to her work."

U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. 12th District, said she was "devastated" by Oliver's death and said her legacy is not just her leadership but her role in raising the state’s minimum wage, the women’s health services she championed to fund, and the affordable housing she advocated for.

"I’ve been blessed to know and work with Shiela for many decades, dating back to my time in the Executive Branch and her work with the Newark Coalition for Low Income Housing," Watson Coleman said. "She was a fierce advocate for the economically disadvantaged, for equal opportunities, and was one of the finest examples of a public servant our State has seen."

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