NARRAGANSETT — A former CVS Health executive with a family connection to Westerly has announced her candidacy for governor.

Helena Foulkes, a former executive vice president and president of the CVS Pharmacy retail division, became the fifth Democrat to announce plans to run through an e-mailed letter and video released Wednesday. She is a granddaughter of Thomas J. Dodd and a niece of Chris Dodd, both former U.S. senators from Connecticut. Foulkes' late mother Martha [Murphy] Buonanno was from Westerly. Thomas J. Dodd married Grace Murphy of Westerly in 1934.

In the letter, Foulkes calls herself a "life-long Rhode Islander and proud Democrat. My father’s grandparents, the Buonannos, came here from Italy and settled on Federal Hill. My mother’s side is the Murphy family in Westerly."

Foulkes is challenging incumbent Gov. Dan McKee, a Democrat who took office in March when Gina Raimondo left to join the Biden administration as U.S. Commerce Secretary. Also running are Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, former Secretary of State Matt Brown, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz. No Republican candidate has officially announced a run.

A period of contemplation prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic spurred Foulkes to seek elective office for the first time in her life, she said.

"Like many of you, over the past 18 months, I have been contemplating our shared future — as a family, a society, and a state. The pandemic and years of Trumpian divisiveness forced us all to reflect upon our common humanity, even as our differences, real and perceived, worked to pull us apart. This is a time of both great crisis and opportunity in the Ocean State, and I am eager to spearhead the change that must come; therefore, I am announcing my candidacy for governor of the State of Rhode Island," Foulkes said in her letter.

For 25 years, Foulkes worked for CVS, the state's largest company. She held several leadership positions, including president of retail where she was responsible for 200,000 employees and $80 billion in revenue.

"I’m particularly proud of my role at CVS Health when I led groundbreaking efforts like removing all tobacco products from every one of our 8,000 thousand stores. My mom died of lung cancer and I’m also a cancer survivor. That project was very personal to me," Foulkes said.

She also played a role in the company's rebrand as “CVS Health” and development of its ExtraCare loyalty program.

Foulkes served on former Gov. Lincoln Chafee's transition team and was appointed by him to serve as vice chairperson of the state Economic Development Corporation. She resigned from the EDC about a year into her appointment following the collapse of 38 Studios, the video game startup that had a $75 million state loan guarantee issued prior to Chafee taking office.

Foulkes and her husband, Bill, have four children and reside in Narragansett.

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