PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island General Assembly is mourning the loss of a longtime state senator who passed away over the weekend.
Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who had been battling colon cancer for more than four years, died Saturday morning. She was 58 years old.
Goodwin was first selected to represent Providence’s Smith Hill neighborhood back in 1986. She was the second-longest serving senator at the time of her death, surpassed only by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who was elected two years earlier.
“Maryellen made an unforgettable impact on all of us in the Senate, and on all who knew her,” Ruggerio said. “She lit up every room she entered with an infectious smile and razor-sharp wit. Our lives are richer for having known her.”
Goodwin championed a law that requires all health insurers to cover the cost of colorectal screenings, tests and examinations. Though she had introduced the measure prior to her own diagnosis, she cited her own experience to help make her case.
“My cancer could have been detected a little earlier, [but that] was not the case,” she said. “I really don’t know how much time I have left on this earth.”
Prior to sending the bill to Gov. Dan McKee’s desk for his signature, her colleagues renamed it “The Maryellen Goodwin Colorectal Screening Act,” to honor her advocacy for cancer screening coverage over the years.
Goodwin also shepherded numerous domestic violence prevention bills into law, as well as a bill guaranteeing paid sick time for Rhode Island workers and another that established minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes.
Ruggerio said Goodwin had a “heart of gold,” and her profound impact on the state “will be felt for generations.”
“She stood fearlessly for what was right, fighting for the voiceless, vulnerable and underprivileged,” he said.
Goodwin’s closest friends in the Senate chambers, Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna Gallo and former Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, describe her as a strong and kind person who could make anyone laugh
“I think anybody who met her … loved her,” Gallo said. “We did most things together and it was great to have a close, close friend like that. She’ll definitely be missed.”
Paiva-Weed said Goodwin fought tirelessly for her Smith Hill constituents and had so much to show for her time in the Senate.
“Whether it was mandatory staffing in nursing homes, whether it was keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, whether it was lead paint, there wasn’t an issue that received more attention than the other,” Paiva-Weed said. “Maryellen was as strong as a friend as she was a fighter for the causes that she believed in.”
Goodwin leaves behind two sisters, Sheila and Maureen, as well as several nieces and nephews; her partner, former Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty; and her close friend Kristen Silvia.
Her funeral is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday at Saint Augustine Church, with visiting hours between 3-8 p.m. Thursday at the Russell J. Boyle & Son Funeral Home.
The Senate honored Goodwin’s legacy Tuesday in lieu of previously scheduled hearings, which were pushed to next week.
Members wore blue clothing and ribbons, in honor of colorectal cancer awareness. Flowers were left in Goodwin’s chair.