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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 R.I. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio through a spokesperson. 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.

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.

She was the second-longest serving member of the state senate.

“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. A devout Catholic, she was more conservative on abortion and some other social issues. But 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, citing her own experience to help make her case. Her colleagues renamed the law in her honor before passage.

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.

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