Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, attorney and daughter of former Maryland lieutenant governor, dies

FILE - This undated file image posted on Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean's Facebook account shows her with her family, including her son Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, bottom right. Maryland authorities said Monday, April 6, 2020, they have recovered the body of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean after she and her son went missing after a canoeing accident. Authorities say they will resume searching Tuesday for her son, 8-year-old Gideon McKean. (Facebook via AP, File)

Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, a human rights attorney who was the daughter of a past Maryland lieutenant governor, died in a boating accident Thursday in Anne Arundel County.

A Washington, D.C., resident, she was educated in Baltimore County and grew up in Ruxton. She was 40.


Her body was recovered in the Chesapeake Bay late Monday afternoon. A search is ongoing for her son, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, age 8, who was in the same accident in Shady Side, about 10 miles south of Annapolis near Herring Bay. Authorities said the pair’s canoe was found overturned east of Rockhold Creek in Deale.

A member of a celebrated Democratic family, Ms. McKean was the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel. She was the grandniece of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier.


Born Nov. 1, 1979, she was the daughter of David Lee Townsend, a professor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and his wife, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor.

She spent her adolescent years at her family’s Ruxton home and participated in Baltimore County Recreation Council sports. She also attended Baltimore County schools before enrolling at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville, where she graduated in 1997. She was a graduate of Boston College and also studied at Trinity College in Dublin.

A 2009 New York Times article quoted her father, who described her as “always playful, a kind of Annie Oakley character.”

She later earned a master’s degree and a law degree from Georgetown University.

Ms. McKean made a strong impression as a high school student at St. Paul’s.

“I remember the day she received her diploma," said Evelyn A. Flory, the former head of school. “She looked confident and was ready to go off into the world.

Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean was the director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative.

“She was an independent young woman, very focused, and positive and part of the school community. She was integrated with her class and worked on the yearbook,” said Dr. Flory, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Maeve was a star athlete, highly competitive when playing. I remember how she wore a special sash that three-sport girls got to wear," she said. “And while she carried a well-known family name, she was always one of the girls. She had a good sense of humor that was appealing."


The former school head also recalled Ms. McKean’s independent spirit.

“She was self-reliant and handled things on her own. I remember she was a good citizen and we wanted our girls to have that quality. By the time she graduated, she was really a young woman ready to confront the adult world."

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The 2009 New York Times article called her a “free spirit” and said that after college she joined the Peace Corps and went to Madagascar. She later worked in the West Coast office of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California and received a letter from what turned out to be her future husband, David McKean. He was seeking a summer internship.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, her daughters, Kate, left, and Maeve, and her husband, David Townsend, hike along the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail in November 2002.

The story went on to describe their 2009 wedding and her dress. She wore "sparkly sneakers under an elegant strapless Italian-designed silk and organza wedding gown.” She was also tattooed with a small apple because she liked eating apples.

She worked on her mother’s unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.


After earning her graduate degrees, Ms. McKean became the director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative and had earlier been senior adviser to the State Department’s global AIDS program. She taught bioethics and human rights as an adjunct professor at Georgetown.

She had also been an associate research professor at the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy. Her resume says she co-launched the university’s Center for Immigrant, Refugee and Global Health.

She was an advocate for vaccines, and appeared at a rally to condemn the separation and detention of families at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018.

In addition to her husband of 11 years, an attorney, survivors include a daughter, Gabriella McKean; a son, Toby McKean; three sisters, Meaghan Anne Kennedy Townsend, Rose Katherine “Kat” Kennedy Townsend and Kerry Sophia Kennedy Townsend; and her parents.