Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who made history as the first Black woman elected to statewide office in New Jersey, was honored at a memorial service on Saturday. The service was held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark and attended by various New Jersey officials, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and five former governors of the state, as well as Oliver’s 95-year-old mother and other family members.
Sharpton spoke highly of Oliver’s dedication to serving others, highlighting her trailblazing role as the first Black woman to lead the state Assembly. He emphasized that she never forgot her purpose and remained committed to the people who supported her. His words earned resounding applause from the crowd, with many rising to their feet in tribute.
Governor Phil Murphy also praised Oliver’s contributions, describing her as a relentless fighter for the people of New Jersey. He commended her for consistently striving to improve the lives of those often overlooked, adding that she was always ahead of the curve when it came to initiating change. Murphy expressed his gratitude to Cardinal Joseph Tobin for hosting the memorial service, likening Oliver to a guardian angel for the state.
Dionne Warwick, a close friend of Oliver’s and a fellow New Jersey native, remembered her as someone who never met a stranger. Warwick remarked on Oliver’s ability to connect with others on a personal level, even if she did not know them intimately. She also shared lighthearted anecdotes about Oliver’s love for laughter and gossip, sparking laughter among the attendees.
The memorial service followed Oliver lying in state at the Capitol rotunda, where her casket, draped with the US flag, was displayed near the state seal. Legislators, former colleagues, and members of the public paid their respects during this time.
In addition to being Murphy’s second-in-command, Oliver also oversaw the Department of Community Affairs, which coordinates state aid to towns and cities and oversees code enforcement. Prior to joining Murphy’s administration, she served in the Assembly from 2003 to 2017, including a term as speaker from 2010 to 2014. She had deep roots in Newark, her hometown, and gained valuable experience in community organizing and advocacy.
According to the state constitution, Murphy has 45 days to appoint a successor to Oliver. In the meantime, Senate President Nicholas Scutari will serve as acting governor if Murphy is absent or unable to fulfill his duties.
The memorial service for Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver was a testament to her legacy as a trailblazer and fighter for the people of New Jersey. Her groundbreaking achievements and unwavering dedication will continue to inspire future generations.