"It's a big world and I've been blessed with the opportunity to see it," Maeve once said. "How could I not jump at the opportunity?"

By Adam Carlson
April 03, 2020 06:52 PM
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In 2008, five years after he had first written to her asking about getting a job at the congressional office where she worked, David McKean and Maeve Kennedy Townsend were leaving Tiffany’s after selecting an engagement ring.

But rather than wait for some future proposal, the future Mrs. McKean knew exactly what she wanted — and on her finger went that ring.

“I said, ‘Maeve! This is the parking lot of the store. This is not what I planned,” David told The New York Times in 2009. “She said, ‘Just propose to me now.’ You can’t argue with that logic, so right there in the parking lot I told her I loved her and I wanted her to marry me.”

A decade and three kids later, he was left to reel at her sudden absence: On Thursday afternoon, Maeve, 40, and the 8-year-old son she and David share went missing in a canoeing accident in the Chesapeake Bay, with family at her mom’s waterfront home in Shady Side, Maryland, not far away.

The scene David described — later detailed in statements by local authorities — was of a mother and son who had set out unaware of the danger about to overtake them.

Waves were two to three feet and the wind whipped at around 30 mph, the Coast Guard told The Washington Post.

Some of the kids that day at the family home had been playing with a ball that went into the water, and so Maeve and son Gideon “popped into a canoe to chase it down,” David, 38, told the Post.

“They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in,” he said.

A 911 call came in about them at 4:30 p.m. From a pier not far from the home, “a concerned citizen …. stated he saw two people in a small canoe or kayak drifting in the bay,” according to the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

“Firefighters arrived at the pier and confirmed the sighting of two people in a small vessel several miles from the pier drifting south in the Chesapeake Bay,” the department said in a statement on Friday.

Thursday at 7 p.m., a canoe and paddle were recovered. But the search was still underway on Friday for Maeve and Gideon.

“At this time, our family asks for privacy and that everyone keep Maeve and Gideon in their prayers,” a family spokesman said in a statement to the Post.

Here’s what you need to know about Maeve, a Kennedy granddaughter who has charted her own course on human rights and government service, following her mom, her grandfather and her great-uncles.

“It’s a big world and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see it,” Maeve once told The Baltimore Sun in those early years after she left college. “How could I not jump at the opportunity?”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend with daughters Kate (left) and Maeve (right), campaigning when Maeve was 15
Robert Sherbow/Getty Images

Growing Up as a Kennedy — and More

Maeve is the second daughter of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, an attorney and a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, and David Townsend, an attorney and professor and “incredibly supportive husband” who helped run the house during his wife’s time in office.

Maeve and her three sisters — Meaghan, the eldest, and Kate and Kerry; both she and Meaghan were born at home — did not grow up with the same level of attention as other Kennedy children. This reflected some familial distance compared to, say, Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., but it was also by design.

“I’m trying to be protective of my children,” their mom told the Sun in 2002. “They’re not in the limelight and I’m pretty comfortable with that.”

Kathleen and David moved to Maryland from Massachusetts in the mid ’80s, where she embarked on a political career that eventually saw her elected lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003.

She also unsuccessfully campaigned to be Maryland’s top executive. “We’re a pretty normal family,” Maeve told the Post in 2002, “except my mom is running for governor.”

The Townsend kids were raised, mostly, in Ruxton, north of Baltimore, according to the Sun. “They attended a variety of schools, both public and private … and were active in local youth sports,” the paper reported in 2002.

Maeve, who graduated from Boston College, was “the enthusiastic, charismatic, passionate sibling,” with a penchant for well-written letters home, according to the Sun.

“She’s outgoing and makes friends easily,” Kathleen said then.

As a girl, she was “always playful, a kind of Annie Oakley character,” her dad told the Times in 2009.

After college, Maeve went on to the Peace Corps (famously founded by her great-uncle) where she taught “English and AIDS awareness to teen-agers in a rural village in Mozambique,” according to the Sun.

Later, while working in California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, she met the man who would become her husband.

From left: Ethel Kennedy, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at a day-long symposium on Robert F. Kennedy at the Kennedy Library
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David McKean, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and family attend the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Ripple Of Hope Gala & Auction in December
Mike Pont/Getty

Her Marriage & Kids

David, two years Maeve’s junior, wrote her a letter in 2003 before his final year at college as part of his hunt for a summer internship.

“Dear Ms. Townsend,” he called her, according to the Times.

He got a job, and they grew closer. To her, he was “funny and very handsome,” and he thought she was “so cute and really fun and bubbly.”

While David initially had a girlfriend, his bond with Maeve persisted, according to a Times write-up of their eventual nuptials.

He went back to San Diego the next summer, where he had first worked in Sen. Feinstein’s office, and he and Maeve began dating.

”They’re like bubbles in a nice glass of Champagne,” a friend told the Times. ”They pop like that.”

Kennedy matriarch Ethel Kennedy was similarly gushing to the paper, saying in 2009, ”It’s a real joy to be around them. They bounce off each other.”

Speaking with Glamour in 2008, Maeve recalled: “Four years ago … I met a UC Berkeley lit major named Dave McKean, who was kind, brilliant and hilarious. He went off to the Far East to teach English just when I was moving to Washington. At the end of his school year, I bought a plane ticket to China, and we traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. You really get to know each other when you both have food poisoning in Cambodia.”

“Now I’m at Georgetown, getting both a law degree and international relations M.A., he’s at American U. law school, and we are head over heels in love,” she continued then, playfully noting: “Like Brangelina, we sometimes sign our letters ‘Maevid.’ He just asked me to marry him!”

They were married on March 21, 2009, by Judge James H. Wexler, a family friend, the Times reported. Maeve wore “sparkly sneakers” with her strapless gown.

Eight-year-old son Gideon — now missing with his mom — was their first child, named for a Supreme Court decision according to the Post. She and David reportedly have two other kids: daughter Gabriella and son Toby, the youngest.

From left: Rep. Joe Kennedy III greets Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean greets during a rally in June 2018
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Her Life’s Work

Maeve most recently has been serving as the executive director of Georgetown’s Global Health Initiative, a “university-wide platform for supporting research, teaching, and service in global health.”

She is a Georgetown alumnae, having earned both her law degree and a master’s degree in international negotiations and conflict resolution in 2009.

“Her work focuses on the intersection of global health and human rights,” according to a brief Georgetown bio.

Before that, she worked in the State Department’s global AIDS program under former President Barack Obama as well as in the Department of Health and Human Services focusing on human rights, according to the Post.

David, who attended American University’s law school, is also a human rights attorney who has worked for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, per the Post.

Reflecting on her family name, Maeve told Glamour in 2008 that people were quick to misunderstand her lot in life.

“People think, because I’m a Kennedy, I’m extremely wealthy and don’t flaunt it,” she said with a laugh. “I have a great name, but by the time you get to the fourth generation, the money’s run out. We’re fortunate compared to the average American, but to think I’m a trust fund kid — so not true!”

Only two generations removed from America’s most famous trio of political scions — former President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Ted and Robert Kennedy — Maeve told Glamour that she had her own civic goals.

“There’s no question that I want to go into public service, but my friends and I talk a lot about the question, How can you go into public service with debts like the ones we’re racking up?” she said then. “I’ll be leaving law school with $150,000 in student loans to repay. Human rights jobs have starting salaries of $35,000. It’s up to us to find a way to keep doing good while going into our chosen careers.”