At about 4 p.m., children were kicking a ball back and forth in a yard, and the ball went into the water, said McKean’s husband, David McKean.
He said his wife and son “popped into a canoe to chase it down.”
“They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in,” he said in a brief interview with The Washington Post.
He said the family had been at the Shady Side home of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland.
Kennedy Townsend described her daughter as a dedicated mother of three and public servant with a “fire emanating from her soul.”
“My heart is 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,” she said in a statement.
Maeve McKean is executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative. She is a granddaughter of the late senator Robert F. Kennedy and grandniece of former president John F. Kennedy.
Capt. Erik Kornmeyer, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said in a statement that a concerned person called authorities around 4:30 p.m. Thursday to say he saw the canoe from the Columbia Beach pier.
According to the Coast Guard, the caller said the boaters were “seen struggling to return to shore in a canoe” near Herring Bay and then not seen again.
A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said the wind in that part of the bay was at 26 knots — about 30 mph — Thursday afternoon, with waves two to three feet high.
Boat and helicopter crews engaged in the search until dark Thursday and resumed Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, the Coast Guard said 2,275 square miles had been covered.
Maryland Natural Resources Police said Friday that an overturned canoe matching the description of the one that went missing was recovered.
“Gideon, like his mom, was a star athlete who loved soccer, golf, and running,” Kennedy Townsend said of her grandson. “He took after his parents in the most extraordinary ways. He loved riddles, math, chess, and adventures.”
McKean is president of the Parent Teacher Association at the Capitol Hill Cluster School. Principals Elena Bell and Kristofer Comeforo sent a letter to families saying they are “deeply saddened by this news.”
McKean graduated from Boston College and Georgetown University with a joint degree in law and international conflict resolution. She served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique, coming home to help with her mother’s 2002 campaign for governor.
She went on to work for Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California — where she met her future husband. Gideon is their first child; the pair of human rights lawyers named him after a Supreme Court case ordering states to pay for defense attorneys for the poor. During the Obama administration, McKean worked in the State Department’s global AIDS program and on human rights in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Last year, she and her mother spoke out openly against her uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s stance against vaccines.
“We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment,” they wrote in a Politico column. “However, on vaccines he is wrong.”
Last month, she was one of hundreds of public health and experts who signed onto a letter urging Vice President Pence to follow scientific recommendations and provide adequate funding in responding to covid-19.
The Kennedy family has been beset by tragedy, including the assassinations of McKean’s grandfather and great-uncle in the 1960s and the death of her cousin Saoirse Kennedy Hill last year.
While they are also widely seen as blessed by fortune, McKean told Glamour in 2008 that was a misconception.
“People think, because I’m a Kennedy, I’m extremely wealthy and don’t flaunt it. Ha!” she said. “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!”
She said it was still a challenge to figure out how to pay her law school bills while committing to a career in public service.
In an interview last year with a Spanish television station, she said why she chose to focus part of her career on women’s health. While women are “half the world,” she said, medical-research investment often favors men.
“I think there’s . . . an incredible opportunity for really making a difference,” she said. “When you improve the health of women and their children, you improve the health of [their] communities.”
Kennedy Townsend said her daughter “devoted her life to helping society’s most vulnerable.”
“She did everything with her full self and her whole heart,” she said.
Magda Jean-Louis, Clarence Williams, Ovetta Wiggins, Spencer S. Hsu, Erin Cox, Annie Linskey and Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.