Maeve McKean talking at a conference at Georgetown University

Georgetown University Remembers Maeve McKean

April 8, 2020

The Georgetown University community mourns the loss of leader, colleague, and friend Maeve McKean, who passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, April 2.

McKean was the executive director of the Georgetown Global Health Initiative (GHI), a university-wide platform for supporting interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service in global health.

A human rights and public health lawyer, McKean graduated from Georgetown in 2009, earning a joint J.D. from Georgetown Law and an M.S. in international negotiations and conflict resolution from the School of Foreign Service.

“In these very difficult moments of this terrible tragedy, I keep my memory focused on Maeve’s always-welcoming smile, her warm ability to bring us together, and her absolute fidelity to the values of justice and equity that framed and motivated her work in the world,” says Edward B. Healton, executive vice president for health sciences, executive dean of the Georgetown University Medical Center, and co-leader of the Global Health Initiative. “Our community deeply misses her.”

McKean served under the Obama administration in the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of State, where she was the first senior policy advisor for human rights in the global AIDS program. She was also an associate research professor and senior policy advisor at the City University of New York before returning to the Hilltop in 2019 as executive director of GHI.

Leadership for the Common Good

A passionate human rights advocate, McKean dedicated her career to the common good by focusing on the health needs of vulnerable people around the world.

“Maeve was especially devoted to ensuring that women across the world had equal opportunities to health care and to combating the enduring crisis of HIV/AIDS,” says John Monahan, senior advisor for global health to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “Her intelligence, passion, and energy made Maeve such an exceptional colleague and such a devoted advocate of human rights and social justice.”

McKean speaks at a conference on “Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS,” 2019.
McKean speaks at a conference on “Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS,” 2019.

At Georgetown, McKean organized events with leading experts to address pressing inequities in global health, from reproductive rights and childhood violence to universal health coverage. She also led efforts to improve HIV/AIDS response worldwide as associate director of the HIV Policy Lab at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

As McKean arranged high-level events and research programs, she remained focused on the underlying goal: helping those in need.

“It is really important that the researcher speaks to the needs of those who are impacted by it,” McKean shared at a GHI event in 2019. “When we look at what we are researching, we need to engage those end-using stakeholders in what are their issues, what are the questions that they need answered, so that the research actually responds.”

Colleagues at the university remember McKean as a force against injustice and oppression who was undeterred in her work to create a more just world.

“Maeve had a special talent for making you believe that there was a solution for every problem, that every injustice could be addressed, that everyone could be helped,” says Katie Gottschalk, executive director of the O’Neill Institute. “Nothing was impossible when Maeve’s passion and optimism were ignited.”

A Creative Thinker

To address critical issues in global health, McKean bridged the often-disconnected worlds of law, policy, and science. Her expertise in human rights and training as a lawyer allowed McKean to chart a cutting-edge approach to global health.

McKean speaks at a luncheon on early childhood health and well-being at Georgetown, 2020.
McKean speaks at a luncheon on early childhood health and well-being at Georgetown, 2020.

“She saw connections where few of us could—between people from different fields, between issues in health and rights and politics,” says Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health and Politics Initiative at the O’Neill Institute.

McKean collaborated with colleagues across the university to push the boundaries of global health.

“I was inspired by her strong interest in developing interdisciplinary approaches and programming,” says Derek Goldman, director of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics and chair of the Department of Performing Arts at Georgetown. “We were in the planning stages of some workshops using techniques around listening, empathy, and dialogue in a global health context.”

McKean also brought her innovative thinking to major conferences like AIDS 2020, the largest gathering on HIV and AIDS in the world. When the meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McKean found a new solution with her characteristic creativity.

Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS Panel 1

“It was her unique way of thinking that moved us from a typical panel discussion to an interactive party where people from around the world could engage in real time with HIV policy data,” Kavanagh recalls. “I will never forget the smile and gleam in her eye that would come when she proposed an out-of-the-box idea.”

Inspiring Future Global Health Leaders

McKean also promoted justice by working to foster the next generation of global health leaders, researchers, and practitioners through her work at GHI.

“At Georgetown, Maeve left her mark by inspiring her students in the classroom to pursue careers in global health,” says Monahan. McKean and Monahan together taught Conversations in Global Health, a class centered on structured discussions with leading experts in global health.

What’s Next? Preparing for Future Pandemics

Reflecting on how McKean impacted Georgetown students, Monahan added, “She also took a special pride in nurturing and mentoring several classes of global health fellows, who conducted innovative and important research while at Georgetown.”

McKean leads a discussion on U.S. investments in global health for a class of Georgetown students, 2019.
McKean leads a discussion on U.S. investments in global health for a class of Georgetown students, 2019.

From supporting students and leading research efforts to organizing high-level events, McKean touched the lives of many people at the university and beyond with her commitment to pursuing a better world through global health.

“Maeve had an incredible gift for bringing together faculty, staff, and students around a shared enterprise,” remembers Thomas Banchoff, vice president for global engagement at Georgetown and co-leader of the Global Health Initiative. “Her unique combination of expertise, energy, and enthusiasm contributed immensely to the success of the Global Health Initiative over the past two years. She will be so deeply missed.”