David McKean delivered the emotional eulogy during a Zoom video conference with over 3,000 participants

By Georgia Slater and Liz McNeil
April 12, 2020 12:30 PM
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While the memorial to honor the lives of Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughter Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her young son Gideon was held via video conference, the love expressed in husband David McKean’s eulogy could still be felt through the screen.

On Saturday, over 3,000 participants came together over Zoom to participate in “A Gathering of Love and Thanksgiving for Maeve and Gideon,” as a way to remember the beloved 40-year-old and 8-year-old who died in a tragic canoe accident.

The virtual memorial brought together those close to the McKean family to honor Maeve and Gideon through prayers, poems, songs and a variety of readings.

After a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace,” sung by special guest Kenny Chesney, Maeve’s husband of 11 years began his emotional eulogy.

“I’m going to read this but bear with me if I stumble a little bit along the way,” he began.

David began the heartfelt speech sharing details of his love story with Maeve. At times, throughout the memorial, he held their son Toby, 2½, in his arms.

“I had a crush on Maeve from the moment I met her. We said that we loved each other after dating for two weeks. I’ve been going back through old letters and we were talking about growing old together before we’d ever even moved into our first apartment. She wrote to me about how scary it was to be this sure about anything. Weren’t we too young? ‘I know,’ I replied, ‘Won’t this kind of intense love fade?’ I laughed in tears reading those letters because those kids were so young. They had no idea,” he said.

“That intense love never dulled at all. It just grew. It got deeper and more complex and more complete. It incorporated our triumphs and our struggles and our joy and our fights and more laughter than anyone could ever expect to a lifetime, and it became the foundation on which we built our lives,” he shared.

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The father of three went on to tell stories of their early life together, from moving around the world to getting engaged in a parking lot.

“We traveled and read and ate apples and agonized about how we could best make a meaningful contribution to our world. We got engaged in a parking lot when Maeve ran away with our engagement ring, laughing her wonderful laugh. She wore glitter Converse sneakers at our wedding. We both forgot our anniversary almost every year,” he said.

David also recalled that the two would “write letters and notes to each other all the time,” something they continued to do throughout their marriage.

He then shared stories about Gideon, reminiscing that he was an “extraordinary child” and recalled several moments when he was “so proud” of his son.

“There’s a little boy who lives across us in our neighborhood, that lives just across the alley, and he was about four. A lot of days, that little boy comes over and Gideon would play video games with him in our house after school. I came home early one day and they were playing, and I was surprised to see little Charlie doing so well,” David said. “I said, ‘Gideon, how is he beating you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, well. He has the computer to help him,’ and I raised an eyebrow and he shot me a look to not ask any follow-up questions.”

“Later I asked him, ‘How did you make it so that the computer could help him?’ And he said, ‘Oh, well, little Charlie was just so sad that he didn’t know how to play, so I asked him if he wanted the computer’s help but really I just put it on one player, and then tell Charlie that he’s doing a really great job and tell him different buttons to try to hit.’ It was really sweet,” David recalled.

David went on to talk about Maeve as not only a wonderful wife, but also a “loving and beautiful parent” to their children, Gideon, Gabriella, 7, and Toby.

“She was always worried about whether they were too cold, or had enough water, or needed a snack. A number of friends, in the last few days, had written to say that being with Maeve has changed their parenting. They say that they say yes to more activities, they get down in the dirt and invent new games, and parent with a sense of intention and wonder and magic,” he said.

One of his fondest memories of Maeve included the treasure hunts she created for her kids. “Maeve loved this game and, for a couple months, she would wake up early every morning and make the homemade treasure hunt for them so that they could find it,” he recalled.

“It was insane. It was so amazing,” he said. “I took all those maps, at the time, and I turned them into a book and I inscribed it, and they gave it to her. These maps are the product of a loving and beautiful parent who wakes up early just to make treasure hunts for our children, simply so she could have the joy of watching and laughing as they tear around the house, excitedly screaming and holding hands, off to find their next treasure, off into a magical future.”

At the end of the eulogy, David expressed his gratitude for everyone who was supporting the family in their time of need. “We’re all so grateful that you’re with us today, but also that you’ve been with us on the road leading here, and that you’ll be with us in the journey that lies ahead. We thank you for your love and your support.”

Maeve was one of Sen. Kennedy’s granddaughters and the daughter of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and David Lee Townsend, an attorney, and professor.

On April 3, Maeve and Gideon ventured out into the Chesapeake on a canoe to quickly retrieve a ball that had landed in the water during their game, her husband said last week. But they were pulled from shore.

They were seen about 30 minutes later by an onlooker who called 911 — and then they vanished, with their paddle and capsized canoe found that evening.

Authorities recovered Maeve’s body on April 6 in the water about 2.5 miles south of Townsend’s home. Two days later, Gideon’s body was discovered about 2,000 feet away from his mom.

That same day, Maeve’s cause and manner of death were confirmed as an accidental drowning by a spokesman for the state’s chief medical examiner, which is handling the case.