Oliver, who was serving as acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy was on vacation in Italy, was taken to a hospital on Monday for an undisclosed medical issue. The cause of her death has not been released.
Oliver was a trailblazing figure in New Jersey politics. She was elected to the state Assembly in 1992 and served as speaker from 2002 to 2008, becoming the first Black woman to lead a legislative chamber in the country.
In 2017, she was elected lieutenant governor alongside Murphy. She was a close confidante of Murphy’s and played a key role in his administration.
“Sheila was a force of nature,” Murphy said in a statement. “She was a brilliant policymaker, a fierce advocate for the people of New Jersey, and a dear friend.”
Oliver was born in East Orange, New Jersey, and graduated from Seton Hall University. She worked as a social worker before entering politics.
She was a passionate advocate for social justice and economic equality. She worked to expand access to affordable healthcare, improve public education, and protect the environment.
Oliver was also a strong supporter of gun control and LGBTQ rights. She was a role model for women and girls of color, and she inspired many to get involved in politics.
“Sheila was a trailblazer,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari. “She broke down barriers and paved the way for others. She will be deeply missed.”