RFK's Late Granddaughter Maeve's Colleagues Remember Her as Next Generation Leader in Making

The death of Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughter and her son shook not only family and friends, but also the global health community where they saw her as “a leader in the next generation.”

On the fateful day of April 2, Maeve Kennedy McKean and her son Gideon went out into the protected cove behind their house in Shady Side, Maryland, in a canoe to retrieve a ball that had landed in the water - never to return.

Even though a bystander called 911 after he spotted them in the greater Chesapeake Bay area battling against the wind to no avail. First responders arrived about 5 minutes after the call, but that ended up being the last time anyone spotted them alive.


Despite every effort, rescue workers couldn’t locate the mother-and-son and only found their canoe and paddle. On April 4, authorities found Maeve’s body, and two days later, they discovered her son Gideon’s body about 2,000 feet away from his mother’s location.

Officials had since determined that both Maeve and Gideon’s cause of death to be an accidental drowning, and she leaves behind her husband David McKean and their two remaining children Toby and Gabriella.

Maeve may have sparkled with custom sneakers during her wedding ceremony to David on March 21, 2009, but her light extended much further. 


“What I saw in her was sparkle, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, Dr. Peter Hotez told PEOPLE. “This was somebody that could really carry the torch [for global health initiatives] in a very substantive way. She clearly was going to be a leader in the next generation.”

The 40-year-old mom of three previously worked for several of former President Barack Obama’s global health programs, which included the fight against AIDS, the State Department, the Department of Health, and Human Services’ Office of Global Affairs.

David McKean, Maeve Kennedy Townsend Mckean and family attend the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Hosts 2019 Ripple Of Hope Gala & Auction on December 12, 2019, in New York City. | Source: Getty Images.

David McKean, Maeve Kennedy Townsend Mckean and family attend the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Hosts 2019 Ripple Of Hope Gala & Auction on December 12, 2019, in New York City. | Source: Getty Images.


A lawyer by trade, Maeve also served as the executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative. 

“Maeve was a brilliant, passionate, and energetic advocate … especially for women and girls and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS,” the senior aide to Georgetown’s president added.

Up until her death, Maeve also got involved in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, and she even contacted Rebecca Katz, the Director of Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, to enquire about a way she could assist.


With social isolation in place amid the pandemic, family and friends couldn’t physically come together to mourn the loss of Maeve and 8-year-old Gideon, and instead held a memorial service remotely via the Zoom application.

Attended by over 3,000 people, David, Maeve’s mother Kathleen, and others paid tribute during the service, which also saw special performances by Natasha Beddingfield, Kenny Chesney, and Melissa Etheridge.


However, the tributes to Gideon and Maeve didn’t stop there. Outside David and Maeve’s home in Washington, D.C. stands a cherry tree now in full bloom, and supporters turned it into a tribute tree with several notes, and cards thoughtfully hung on its branches. 

Several family members also expressed their sadness, as the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, previously married to Maeve's aunt Kerry Kennedy, called the mother and son's death "emotionally very painful" during a press conference. 

Maeve's cousin, Kick Kennedy also shared his sadness and wrote in a post that their hearts had broken "beyond description" and added that they will always have a "special place" in his heart.

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