Rhode Island state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin dies at 58

 April 16, 2023

Sad news emerged in the Rhode Island legislature over the weekend, as it was revealed that state Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D) died following a lengthy battle with cancer, as the Providence Journal reports.

The longtime lawmaker's death was confirmed by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who said, “Our hears are shattered by the news that our beloved colleague Maryellen Goodwin has passed away/ Her accomplishments are numerous, and her legacy will be indelible.”

Celebrated career

Goodwin was a lifelong resident of Providence, and she became immersed in politics at a young age under the tutelage of her father, the late state Sen. Thomas Goodwin, whose seat she would later hold, as Providence CBS affiliate WPRI noted.

Making her first foray into politics with her 1986 election to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention while still in her early 20s, it was not long until Goodwin won the Senate seat she would keep for 36 years.

With her many years of service in the state Senate, Goodwin was the second-longest serving member in the upper chamber at the time of her death, behind only Ruggerio in the length of her tenure.

Said to be liberal when it came to economic policy, Goodwin evinced a more conservative take on certain social issues, including abortion, according to WPRI.

Cancer battle prompts legislative action

While engaged in her own fight against cancer, the longtime lawmaker launched a campaign to pass what ultimately became known as the “Maryellen Goodwin Colorectal Screening Act” designed to require insurers to cover preventative screening tests and colonoscopies for the disease.

During an impassioned speech to her colleagues, Goodwin explained, as the Journal noted, “My cancer could have been detected a little earlier. And it was not...so I really don't know how much time I have left on this earth.”

“Colon cancer is [also] one of the most survivable forms of cancer, but only if it is detected early,” Goodwin told fellow lawmakers. “This legislation removes significant financial barriers that too often discourage or prevent people from getting this life saving screening.”

Though the measure had passed the Senate more than once only to be defeated in the state House, in 2021, the legislation finally secured approval in both chambers and was signed into law – in Goodwin's presence – by Gov. Dan McKee (D), who said, as the Journal reported separately, “There is no question, expanding access to colorectal cancer screenings will save lives. This bill will save lives.”

Tributes pour in

As the Journal further noted, Goodwin's passing prompted a host of tributes from colleagues across the state, with McKee ordering flags to be lowered in her honor and saying, “Rhode Islanders owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Goodwin – her leadership and courage have helped so many across our state.”

Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D) stated, “I will always miss her tenacious advocacy for the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders, as well as her tremendous grace and wit while waging a courageous fight against cancer for the last several years” and added, “[a]ll of her colleagues in the General Assembly loved her dearly.”

Democrat Congressman David Cicilline (RI) responded to news of the lawmaker's passing by saying, “Rest in peace, my beautiful friend. Maryellen Goodwin was a dedicated public servant, a champion for her community and her district, and a beloved colleague to so many of us. It has been a special blessing in my life to call her my friend, and I am heartbroken by her passing.”

In testament to her collaborative approach to her job, Republican minority leader in the Senate, Jessica de la Cruz, lauded Goodwin's record throughout her long tenure, but also said, “More than her impressive career accomplishments, Maryellen will be remembered for how she made us all feel. Her presence was a comfort, her courage, and good humor in the face of her illness an inspiration, and her never-faltering smile a ray of sunshine in our lives.”

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