Tributes pour in honoring the life and legacy of R.I. Sen. Maryellen Goodwin

Senate Majority Whip and chamber’s second-longest serving member dies at age 58

By: - April 16, 2023 11:05 am

Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin was first elected to represente Providence’s Smith Hill neighborhood in 1988 and won her 18th term last year. She died in April at age 58. (Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Senate)

Blue lights illuminated the State House Saturday night to remember Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, the chamber’s second-longest-serving member, who passed away from cancer at the age of 58.

The lights invoked the color for colorectal cancer awareness, a cause that Goodwin championed even before she herself was diagnosed and underwent treatment for colon cancer. The Maryellen Goodwin Colorectal Cancer Screening Act signed into law in 2021 provides full insurance coverage for colorectal cancer screenings and was one of many pieces of legislation Goodwin sponsored to improve access to health care.

Gov. Dan McKee directed flags to be lowered in honor of Goodwin, whose death was confirmed Saturday morning by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. 

“Maryellen made an unforgettable impact on all of us in the Senate, and on all who knew her,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “She lit up every room she entered with an infectious smile and razor-sharp wit. Our lives are richer for having known her.”

First elected to the Senate in 1986, Goodwin represented Providence’s Smith Hill neighborhood where she grew up. She was an advocate for quality elder care, child care, domestic violence prevention, improved health care, and other causes.

A long career of service

Tributes to Goodwin poured in over the weekend, praising her selflessness and determination to protect those who are vulnerable and voiceless.

From Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz on behalf of the Senate Minority Caucus:

“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.”

From U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.):

“Maryellen Goodwin was 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. 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.”

From U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.): 

“It has been a special blessing in my life to call her my friend and I am heartbroken by her passing. Rhode Island is lucky to have been represented by a woman who every day worked so hard on behalf of her neighborhood and her community and believed so deeply in public service. She leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.”

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi wrote:

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend, Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who I will miss forever. All of her colleagues in the General Assembly loved her dearly. May she rest in peace.

Ryan Strik, director of government relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Rhode Island, wrote:

“A cancer diagnosis is all the battle that any one person should have to fight, but since her diagnosis several years ago Senator Goodwin has continued to approach her public service with vigor, pursuing progress and equity-oriented legislation. Her support was instrumental in eliminating barriers in access to colorectal cancer screening. The legislation, which is sure to save hundreds of lives each year, was named in her honor.”

A sampling of condolence messages posted on social media:



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Janine L. Weisman
Janine L. Weisman

Rhode Island Current Editor-in-Chief Janine L. Weisman served as a reporter and editor during her 25-year career in the newsroom of The Newport Daily News. She is an adjunct journalism faculty member at Roger Williams University.