PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who broke barriers for women at the State House over nearly four decades in the legislature, has died. She was 58.

Goodwin’s death was confirmed by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio through a spokesperson, who said she passed away overnight. She had been battling cancer for a number of years.

“Our hearts are shattered by the news that our beloved colleague Maryellen Goodwin has passed away,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “Her accomplishments are numerous, and her legacy will be indelible.”

A lifelong Providence resident, Goodwin learned politics at the family dinner table. Her father was the late state Sen. Thomas Goodwin, who served five terms in the same seat his daughter would later hold.

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Photo courtesy R.I. Senate

Goodwin first entered politics in her early 20s when she was elected to the 1986 Rhode Island Constitutional Convention. Later that year, she was elected to represent Providence’s Smith Hill neighborhood in the Senate, a seat she held for the next 36 years. She easily won an 18th term last year.

Goodwin was the second-longest serving member of the Senate at the time of her death, surpassed only be Ruggerio, who was elected two years earlier.

“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.”

Goodwin was liberal on economic policy, pushing through legislation such as a law establishing guaranteed paid sick time for Rhode Island workers and another that established minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes.

A devout Catholic, Goodwin was more conservative on abortion and some other social issues. However, in 2013 she gave an emotional speech explaining how she reconciled her vote for same-sex marriage with her religious faith.

In 2021, Goodwin sponsored a law requiring health insurers to cover screenings for prostate and colorectal cancer. She cited her own experience to help make her case, though she had introduced the measure prior to her own diagnosis. Her colleagues renamed the law in her honor before passage.

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Tributes began to pour in as soon as Goodwin’s death was announced.

Gov. Dan McKee directed that flags be lowered in her honor. “On behalf of the people of Rhode Island, thank you Senator Goodwin,” he said in a statement.

Congressman David Cicilline described Goodwin as “a dedicated public servant, a champion for her community and her district, and a beloved colleague to so many of us.”

“Maryellen courageously battled cancer for many years and did so with grace, strength, and comforted by her deep religious faith,” he said.

Providence Mayor Brett Smiley said, “Even while fighting cancer, Senator Goodwin was a fearless champion for all things Providence. Our city and state are better because of her 40 years of advocacy and leadership. Her presence will be sincerely missed.”

Goodwin’s survivors include two sisters, Sheila and Maureen, as well multiple nieces and nephews; her partner, former Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty; and her close friend Kristen Silvia.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White ( is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article has been updated and expanded.