Maeve Fahey Kennedy McKean (née Townsend; November 1, 1979 – April 2, 2020) was an American public health official, human rights attorney, and academic. She served as the Executive Director of the Global Health Initiative at Georgetown University. During the Obama Administration, McKean was the first-ever Senior Advisor for Human Rights in the United States Department of State's global AIDS program and the Office of Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She disappeared with her eldest son Gideon in the Chesapeake Bay on April 2, 2020. Maryland law enforcement officials declared that she and her son were presumed dead on April 3, 2020. Her body was found in the Chesapeake Bay on April 6 and Gideon's was found on April 8.
Early life and education
McKean was a daughter of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, and David Lee Townsend, a professor at St. John's College. She was born in New Haven, Connecticut and was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. A member of the Kennedy family, she was a granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy and a grandniece of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
McKean attended elementary and middle schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools system, and later attended St. Paul's School for Girls for high school, graduating in 1997. She was an undergraduate student at Boston College. While in college, she worked part-time at Bruegger's and Dunkin' Donuts and studied abroad at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. She graduated from Georgetown University with a joint juris doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center and a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree in international negotiations and conflict resolution from the Walsh School of Foreign Service in 2009.
McKean was a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Mozambique. She returned to the United States in 2002 to work on her mother's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.] She served in the Obama Administration as the first-ever Senior Advisor for Human Rights within the United States Department of State's Global AIDS program and at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Global Affairs, where she led teams on working with human rights policy issues, women's and children's health, and LGBTQ health. She also worked for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in California and in Washington, D.C. McKean served as an associate research professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy and co-launched the university's Center for Immigrant, Refugee and Global Health. She served as the Executive Director of Georgetown University's Global Health Initiative.
McKean was also an adjunct professor at Georgetown, where she taught bioethics and human rights. In March 2019 McKean, during an interview with Spanish news agency EFE, stated that her public health work is centered on women and children because they are "half of the world" and due to more funding and research going in to drugs and interventions that pertain to health issues related to men. On May 8, 2019 she spoke out against her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and his non-profit health organization, Children's Health Defense, for spreading false information about vaccines. In March 2020 she signed a letter, along with hundreds of other public health officials, urging U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to follow scientific recommendations and provide adequate funding in response to COVID-19.
McKean met David McKean, then a student at the University of California at Berkeley, while she was working in California for Senator Feinstein in 2003. The two went on a trip to Asia together, travelling to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. They became engaged in 2008. They married on March 21, 2009, at the Woman's National Democratic Club, a mansion in Washington, D.C. They had three children; Gideon, Gabriella, and Toby. The family lives in Washington, D.C., where both McKean and her husband worked as lawyers. She served as president of the Parent–Teacher Association at Capitol Hill Cluster School, a public K-8 school where her children are enrolled.
Disappearance and death
On April 2, 2020, McKean and her eight-year-old son, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, went missing while paddling in a canoe near McKean's mother's waterfront residence in Shady Side, Maryland. McKean had taken her family to Maryland to stay in quarantine during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Reports from the Maryland Natural Resources Police say they were attempting to retrieve a kickball that had landed in the water. Due to high winds, they were swept further out into the Chesapeake Bay. Fire officials from Anne Arundel County received an emergency call at 4:30 PM that day from a man who reported seeing a woman and her son, presumably the McKeans, in a small canoe near the community pier at Columbia Beach.
McKean and her son were last sighted ten miles south of Annapolis, near Herring Bay. Marine units from the Queen Anne's County Police Department, Anne Arundel County Police Department, Maryland State Police, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, as well as the United States Coast Guard, searched the Chesapeake by boat and helicopter. Natural Resources Police reported that an overturned canoe was found around 7:00 PM on April 3, 2020, near Rockhold Creek in Deale Later that night, after twenty-six hours, the Coast Guard suspended its search. At 7:30 PM, Maryland officials called off the search due to darkness. As of April 3, 2020, she and her son were presumed dead. On April 4, 2020, the search was resumed by Maryland police.
McKean and her son's disappearance has been referred to in the media as part of the "Kennedy curse", a series of deaths, accidents, and other calamities involving the family. McKean's body was found on April 6, 2020, and her son's body was found on April 8, 2020. On April 8, 2020, the medical examiner reported McKean accidentally drowned in the turbulent and chilly water of the Chesapeake Bay. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a public funeral was not able to take place. An online memorial via Zoom Video Communications, called A Gathering of Love and Thanksgiving for Maeve and Gideon, was hosted by the Kennedy family on April 11, 2020 and watched by over 3,000 people. Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, and Kenny Chesney performed at the online memorial.