When Sheila Oliver agreed to join our first campaign together, I knew I had found my perfect partner in government.
But what I didn’t know—at least, yet—was that I had also found a sister.
That became fully apparent on July 24, 2017—the day that Sheila and I met for the first time as running mates. That evening, Sheila joined me, Tammy, and our kids in Newark’s historic Ironbound, to break bread and celebrate the beginning of our journey together. It was the moment she became an honorary member of the Murphy Family.And every day since that dinner, I relied on Sheila. I leaned on her legislative expertise, I followed her moral compass, and I tried my best to live up to the gold standard she set every day as the rockin’-est member of my cabinet—which, wasn’t easy, given her flawless sense of style.
By now, almost everybody knows about Sheila the trail-blazer. Throughout her more than five decades of service to New Jersey, she broke one glass ceiling after another—as the first Black woman to serve as Speaker of the General Assembly, the first woman of color elected to statewide office in our state’s history, and the highest-ranking Black woman to ever serve the people of New Jersey.
But I want to tell you a little bit about Sheila the changemaker.
Because, more than anything, Sheila was a daughter of Newark. Her journey into public service began on the eve of her 15th birthday—when her city erupted into flames after years of being neglected, hollowed out, and disregarded by generations of leaders. It was in the pain of that communal outcry—which we now remember as the Newark Rebellion—that Sheila discovered purpose. And from then on, she dedicated herself to mastering the ins and outs of government—to become the champion she believed her community sorely needed.
Sheila trained herself to become a five-tool athlete—making any progress she could, in any position she could reach. From the East Orange School Board, to the Gener-al Assembly, to her role in my administration as lieutenant governor and commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. No matter the role, Sheila poured herself into forging relationships—and learning the complexities of legislating—to better the lives of the forgotten families throughout our state.
So, by the time Sheila and I joined forces, she not only brought her vital, lived experience to the table—she also brought decades of expertise and a proven track-record in making government work for the people. And during our six years of partnership, Sheila was the mastermind behind some of our greatest accomplishments, like revitalizing our cities, expanding affordable housing, supporting our neighbors in need, and more.
I cannot adequately express how grateful I am that Sheila agreed to join me as my partner in government all those years ago.
She was one of the finest public servants our state—and if I may be so bold, our nation—has ever known.
And I believe that sentiment is shared by New Jersians all across our state. Just look at the scenes from that Thurs-day in our State House, where mourners lined up for hours to pay their respects to Sheila as she laid in state—a first for any public official in modern history.
The people of our state showed up because they knew that, even if they did not know Sheila personally, they could always trust that she was fighting for them.