CLEARWATER — Years before the likes of Gary Hart and Bill Clinton came to define the modern political sex scandal, a dancer named Fanne Foxe jumped from the limousine of a powerful U.S. Congressman in 1972 and dove into Washington’s Tidal Basin.
The episode launched a sex scandal unique for its time and Foxe, who had been having an affair with the congressman, became a household name who was featured in newspaper headlines across the globe. She would stay in the spotlight for some time, even getting arrested for indecent exposure in Orlando in 1974 for stripping naked at a club.
However, she soon largely faded from the public eye.
Turns out, she settled in Clearwater, where she had lived since the 1980s. Annabel Montgomery was her real name. Though her life here was quieter than her time caught up in scandal, it was hardly boring.
Montgomery earned three degrees, two from the University of South Florida and one from the University of Tampa in marine science, business administration and communications.
Montgomery died Feb. 10. She was 84.
Montgomery was born Annabel Edith Villagra in Nueve de Julio, Argentina, on Feb. 14, 1936, according to national news outlets. She and her first husband, Edwardo Battistella, divorced shortly before her affair with U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills was revealed, the New York Times reported at the time.
Montgomery’s stage name was Fanne Foxe, though she was also known as “the Argentine Firecracker,” according to media reports. On Oct. 7, 1974, she was caught in a speeding car with Mills, a powerful Arkansas representative who was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Hoping to escape police, she lept into the Tidal Basin. A reporter caught wind of the incident and her affair with the drunken Mills launched her into the spotlight.
Montgomery would continue to perform burlesque for a few months after the scandal broke, but she was arrested at Club Juana in Orlando on Dec. 11 of that year on a charge of indecent exposure, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The charge was eventually dropped but after the incident, she left behind her dancing career, according to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The next year, she released a ghost-written memoir titled The Stripper and the Congressman and participated in a handful of interviews.
For much of her life, Montgomery sought to move beyond her past, according to her second former husband, Daniel Montgomery.
“She tried very hard to get away from her notoriety,” he said. “She had a social conscience that was never explored or revealed.”
Daniel Montgomery married her in 1980, he said, and they had a daughter, Melanie. The couple divorced in 1986, but remained close to help raise their child and her three children from her previous marriage, whom Daniel Montgomery said he helped raise through their teenage years. In the late 1980s, she moved to the Tampa Bay area.
The University of Tampa confirmed that Montgomery received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 1995 and graduated with a GPA that qualified her for magna cum laude honors.
“Communications and languages were always important to her,” Daniel Montgomery said.
According to the University of South Florida, Annabel Montgomery also earned a Master of Science in Marine Science in 2001, as well as an MBA in 2004. Daniel Montgomery said she worked in USF’s marine biology lab, where she studied a type of parasite called Cryptosporidium and discovered a new way of interacting with different elements of sea water.
Annabel Montgomery’s business administration degree helped her in her professional life as an insurance consultant who dealt with businesses’ losses in catastrophes, her former husband said. State records indicate her last license was issued in 2005 and Daniel Montgomery said she worked through Hurricane Katrina, as well as Florida’s notorious 2004 hurricane season.
Much of Annabel Montgomery’s adult life after her time in the public eye was also dedicated to her family, her former husband said.
“She was a very avid gardener,” he said. Many of the vegetables from her harvests ended up in the Argentinian dinners she cooked for the family.
In addition to cooking and gardening, Annabel Montgomery enjoyed photography and sewing clothes for her children and grandchildren. One year, she made a Scarlett O’Hara costume for her daughter, Melanie, who won a local Halloween contest for the outfit, Daniel Montgomery said.
Annabel Montgomery also liked to donate to the Salvation Army and hospice, the field in which Melanie worked.
In 2017, Melanie died at age 36 due to a heart problem. It was a few days before Melanie’s birthday, a loss Daniel Montgomery described as “devastating.”
“She was our little angel,” he said.
Throughout the years, Annabel Montgomery held the family together, Daniel Montgomery said. According to her local obituary, she had three children from her first marriage: Grace McGarry, Alex Montgomery and Maria Ibanez-Lasater. She also had seven grandchilden.
Several phone numbers associated with the children were disconnected and phone calls from a Tampa Bay Times reporter went unanswered.
“She was the glue of the family,” Daniel Montgomery said.
When the pandemic struck Florida, her family shielded her from the virus, Daniel Montgomery said. Still, she was very ill and weakened from a recent heart surgery and ongoing gastrointestinal and vascular problems. Annabel Montgomery remained bedridden for much of the last six months of her life. But she looked forward to reuniting with her loved ones and God in heaven, Daniel Montgomery said.
“She had a great belief in God,” he said. “She was a churchgoer.”
His favorite memory from their time together will be their wedding day, Daniel Montgomery said. Both he and Annabel Montgomery were born on Feb. 14 and they also wed on Valentine’s Day.
Annabel Montgomery died just a few days before their shared birthday. But on Feb. 14, a notice ran in the Tampa Bay Times: a privately purchased obituary, dedicated to her life, her studies and the family she loved.