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Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin passes away at 58

Raymond Baccari

Editor-in-Chief

Photo via Rhode Island Senate

Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin has passed away following a battle with cancer. Goodwin was 58.


Senate President Dominick Ruggerio confirmed the news through a statement sent by a spokesperson Saturday.


“Our hearts are shattered by the news that our beloved colleague Maryellen Goodwin has passed away,” Ruggerio said. “Her accomplishments are numerous, and her legacy will be indelible. Maryellen made an unforgettable impact on all of us in the Senate, and on all who knew her. She lit up every room she entered with an infectious smile and razor-sharp wit. Our lives are richer for having known her.”


Goodwin’s first elected office was in 1986 as a delegate for Rhode Island’s Constitutional Convention. That same year, she also was elected to serve as a state senator for Senate District 1, a seat she served in for over 30 years. During that time when she was elected to the State Senate, Goodwin was still a student at Rhode Island College. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from RIC two years later in 1988. Prior to attending RIC, Goodwin graduated from St. Patrick High School.


Goodwin’s father, the late Sen. Thomas Goodwin, also served in politics, being elected to five terms in the same seat that represents Providence’s Smith Hill area. Thomas Goodwin’s tenure in the State Senate went from 1969 to 1979.


Goodwin was the State Senate’s second-longest-serving member, first winning her seat two years after Ruggerio, who is the current longest-serving member, won his seat.


“Maryellen’s impact on Smith Hill, Providence, and our entire state will be felt for generations,” Ruggerio said. “She stood fearlessly for what was right, fighting for the voiceless, vulnerable and underprivileged. Her leadership led to passage of landmark laws improving lead poisoning prevention, the child care industry, domestic violence prevention, public safety, worker protections, access to health care, home care and nursing home safety, and so much more.”


During Goodwin’s time in politics, she sponsored legislation that focused on addressing health care, promoting cancer awareness and improvement treatments, domestic violence prevention and improving elder care.


One piece of legislation she sponsored before her diagnosis, which requires insurers to fully cover preventative screenings and colonoscopies, was named in her honor. The legislation, which is called The Maryellen Goodwin Colorectal Cancer Screening Act, was signed by Gov. Dan McKee in April 2021.


Before becoming Senate Majority Whip, Goodwin also chaired the Senate Committee on Special Legislation as well as the Joint Committee on State Lottery.


Following the announcement, tributes came in from elected officials throughout the state.


“Susan and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin,” McKee said in a statement. “Born and raised in the Smith Hill neighborhood of Providence, Maryellen was a tireless champion for her constituents and the state of Rhode Island. From sponsoring legislation that supported seniors, to strengthening worker protections, fighting for increases in school aid, especially funding for English Language Learners, Senator Goodwin dedicated her life to public service.”


Sen. Jack Reed described Goodwin as “a compassionate legislator, a true trailblazer, and a tremendous friend to her colleagues and constituents.”


“I had the pleasure of serving alongside Maryellen in the State Senate as she was elected to the seat that her father once held,” Reed said. “We all know how incredibly proud she made him, and as she rose through the ranks on Smith Hill, Maryellen gave us all a lot to be proud of too.”


Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz said on behalf of the Senate Minority Caucus, “The loss of our esteemed colleague, Maryellen Goodwin, has left us with a profound sense of sadness. Maryellen was not just a lawmaker but a strong leader and woman of deep faith. Her guiding hand, immense knowledge, and beautiful smile will be sorely missed in the Senate, and our heartfelt sympathies go out to her family, friends, and all those who had the privilege of knowing and working alongside her.”


McKee has directed flags to be lowered in honor of Goodwin.

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