Democratic New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, 71, died unexpectedly on Tuesday following a brief hospitalization, CBS News reported.
Oliver, who had been serving as the state's acting governor while Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was out of the country on vacation, was rushed to a hospital on Monday with an "undisclosed medical issue."
Per New Jersey's Constitution, Democratic Senate President Nicholas Scutari will now ascend to the role of acting governor until Gov. Murphy is able to return and resume his position.
"It is with incredible sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of the Honorable Sheila Y. Oliver, Lieutenant Governor of the State of New Jersey. She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero," Oliver's family said in a press release.
"As we come to terms with this profound loss, we kindly request that you respect the privacy of the Oliver family during this difficult time as they grieve their beloved Sheila," the family continued. "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."
"Further information and details regarding memorial arrangements will be provided in due course. Until then, we appreciate your understanding and support," the statement added. "May her memory be a source of comfort and strength to all who knew her."
Despite being out of the country on a family vacation to Italy, Gov. Murphy swiftly released a statement to share how he and his family were "incredibly saddened and distraught" to learn of the sudden death of "our dear friend, colleague, and partner in government, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver."
"When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lt. Gov. Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense of the word," Murphy said in recognition of the fact that she had been the first black woman to serve as speaker of the state's General Assembly and only the second black woman ever nationwide to lead a chamber 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," the governor continued.
Murphy went on to praise Oliver for her accomplishments while serving as his second-in-command and added, "Beyond all of that, she was an incredibly genuine and kind person whose friendship and partnership will be irreplaceable. We ask that you all keep the Oliver family and all those who knew and loved her in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."
According to NorthJersey.com, Senate President Scutari temporarily became the acting governor on Monday when Lt. Gov. Oliver was rushed to a hospital for an undisclosed reason, and he will continue to serve in that role -- he already ordered all flags to fly at half-staff in her honor -- until Gov. Murphy returns home early from his vacation in Italy.
The outlet noted that Oliver, who was born and raised in Newark and lived in East Orange, where she launched her political career in the 1990s, first on a local education board and then a county board of commissioners. She was first elected to the Assembly in 2003 and ascended to become the speaker in 2010, which ultimately led to her being chosen by Murphy as his running mate in 2017.
Along the way throughout her political rise, Oliver also suffered a few failures, including unsuccessful attempts to be elected mayor of East Orange and to the U.S. Senate for the seat now occupied by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Per the state's constitution, Gov. Murphy has 45 days from the date of Oliver's death to choose a replacement for the lieutenant governor's position, which does not require the confirmation of New Jersey's senate.