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Family remembers the daughter, grandson of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Maeve Fahey Kennedy Townsend McKean, 41, and her son, 8-year-old Gideon, are presumed dead after going missing on the Chesapeake Bay Thursday.
Maeve Fahey Kennedy Townsend McKean, 41, and her son, 8-year-old Gideon, are presumed dead after going missing on the Chesapeake Bay Thursday.HANDOUT (custom credit)/Alan Fleischmann

The Kennedy family again turned to mourning as they remembered the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and her 8-year-old son a day after the search for two on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland turned from rescue to recovery.

Maeve Fahey Kennedy Townsend McKean, 40, and her son, 8-year-old Gideon were presumed dead Friday after the Coast Guard suspended a search that began Thursday afternoon and stretched 26 hours and 3,658 square miles.

“Our hearts are crushed, yet we shall try to summon the grace of God and what strength we have to honor the hope, energy and passion that Maeve and Gideon set forth into the world,” said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in a statement provided to the Globe by Alan H.H. Fleischmann, McKean’s godfather and Townsend’s chief of staff when she served as Maryland’s lieutenant governor.


“When my uncle Ted eulogized my father, he offered a prayer that what daddy was to his family, and what he wished for others, would someday come to pass for all the world,” said Townsend, referring to the death of her father, Robert F. Kennedy, at the hands of an assassin in 1968. “This is our prayer for Maeve and Gideon.”

Townsend, who was lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003, is the eldest of 11 children born to Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel.

Maryland Natural Resources Police said in a statement that the two, had gotten into a canoe in Shady Side, Md., to recover a ball when “strong winds and heavy seas” pulled them out into the bay Thursday afternoon. The canoe was found overturned later that day and a recovery operation was still ongoing Saturday, according to a spokeswoman.

McKean’s husband, David McKean, said in a Facebook post Friday that his family had been self-quarantining at a house owned by Townsend, which offered more yard space for the children than at their Washington, D.C., home.


McKean and her son had been playing kickball and were trying to retrieve the ball from a small cove behind the home, he said.

Massachusetts Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III paid tribute to them on Twitter on Saturday.

“We love you Maeve. We love you Gideon. Our family has lost two of the brightest lights. Grateful for the prayers. Hold your loved ones tight," he said.

McKean was a 2001 graduate of Boston College, where she was an English major, “an excellent student who was considered a leader among her classmates,” according to a statement from the college Saturday.

A yearbook photo of Maeve McKean at Boston College, which she graduated in 2001.
A yearbook photo of Maeve McKean at Boston College, which she graduated in 2001.(CUSTOM (custom credit)/INTERNET ARCHIVE

She had been working as the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative and as an adjunct professor teaching bioethics and human rights at the university, according to Townsend’s statement.

“Maeve was vivid. You always knew when she was in a room. Her laughter was loud, unabashed, and infectious," Townsend said in her statement. “She did everything with her full self and her whole heart. She gave the best hugs, sang loudly and out of tune, danced, wrestled, argued, forgave. Maeve shone. The fire emanating from her soul warmed us all.”

Their deaths were the latest in a series of tragedies to have befallen the family over many decades. The presumed deaths of McKean and her son come less than a year since the tragic death of another grandchild of Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy.


Most recently, in August, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, the daughter of Courtney Kennedy and Paul Hill, was found unresponsive at the family’s compound in Hyannis Port and pronounced dead at Cape Cod Hospital. The cause of death was determined to be a toxic mixture of methadone, alcohol, and prescription drugs, according to her death certificate.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill also studied at BC and been slated to begin her senior year there last fall.

David McKean remembered his wife as a “my everything...my best friend and my soulmate.”

“You could hear Maeve’s laugh a block away — and she laughed a lot,” he said in a Facebook post. “She was magical — with endless energy that she would put toward inventing games for our children, taking on another project at work or in our community, and spending time with our friends.”

The two were married in 2009 by a friend of the Kennedy family, Massachusetts district court judge James H. Wexler, according to the New York Times, which covered the Washington, D.C., wedding.

The couple had three children, according to David McKean. Townsend said Gideon, the couple’s oldest child, “took after his parents in the most extraordinary ways.”

The child was “like his mom, a star athlete,” who loved soccer, golf, and running, she said.

David McKean posted about his other children, to whom he is now the sole parent.

“As Gabriella and Toby lay sleeping next to me last night, I promised them that I would do my best to be the parent that Maeve was, and to be the person that Gideon clearly would have grown up to be,” David McKean said in the post.


“Part of that is keeping their memories alive."

Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.