PALM BEACH, Fla. — PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Mark Foley, until last week a fixture on this town's lofty social circuit, once recounted a party at Mar-a-Lago, Donald J. Trump's fabled estate.
"Miss Germany was my date," he told a writer at Washingtonian magazine for an article called "How to Date a Congressman."
It was one of the many hints that Foley dropped to mask the realities of his strictly compartmentalized life. Over 12 years in Congress, he became adept at projecting a magnetic public persona - helped by loyal aides and a sister he breezily called his surrogate wife - while conducting a private life fraught with more secrets than anyone imagined.
Despite whispers about his sexuality - friends in South Florida and Washington knew Foley was gay but never discussed it with him - no one imagined that he was sending sexually explicit e-mail messages to congressional pages as young as 16, news of which led him to resign last week.
Foley's subsequent assertions that he is an alcoholic and was molested by a clergyman as a teenager further stunned his friends and left them skeptical.
In Florida, friends said he kept his sexuality quiet because the most influential forces in his life - his parents and the political world he thrived in - would not accept him otherwise.
"I never asked outright because I thought it would be inappropriate," said Billy Brooks, a Town Council member in Palm Beach who was Foley's high school guidance counselor. "I suppose if I had my druthers, I would have said, 'Let's get it out and get it over with.' It was always bubbling under the surface."
Some of Foley's associates questioned his molestation claim, saying that even if it is true, it sounds too much like excuse-making.
And, although Foley's lawyer said Monday that the former congressman was an alcoholic who had sent the inappropriate messages to teenagers while drunk, everyone interviewed was doubtful, and some said they had rarely seen him holding a drink.
"It sounds more like the advice of a top-notch criminal defense lawyer," said Rodney Romano, a former mayor of Lake Worth, Fla., where Foley grew up.
Friends and colleagues say that in Washington, Foley excelled at attracting public attention and took particular pleasure in having access to celebrities.
He boasted of showing Julia Roberts and Melanie Griffith around the Capitol, dining with Clint Eastwood and visiting Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.
Tom Ramiccio, a Lake Worth resident who has known Foley since high school, said Foley did not want his parents to know he was gay. His father, a gregarious former Marine who taught science, and his mother, a quiet woman who cooked for priests, are devout Catholics who were proud of their son's success, Ramiccio said.
"I think they just brushed it off and didn't think it was ever true," he said of Foley's homosexuality.