Right off, the crusty tycoon wanted everyone to know he wasn't looking for a presidential appointment. He'd told his old friend, Ronald Reagan, as much right after the election.
"I didn't want anything," he said. "I didn't want an ambassadorship. I didn't want a Cabinet post."
He said he only agreed to become a director of the Communications Satellite Corp. because "it looked like it was a corporate board that didn't have a doggone thing to do with the president."
When the tycoon found out he had been mistaken, he said he fired off a letter to the president with the following advice: "Why don't you pick someone you owe something to?"
Reagan didn't like the advice.
So yesterday Justin Dart, chairman of Dart & Kraft, Inc., vice chairman of the University of Southern California board of trustees, former star football player and a member of Reagan's "kitchen cabinet," went before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for a confirmation hearing.
Senators fell all over themselves trying to make him feel at home.
Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.) greeted him at the door. Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), Reagan's closest friend in the Senate, was there to introduce him. And Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who first met Dart more than 50 years ago, chaired the hearing.
Laxalt put the hearing in its proper context. Dart, he said, was "a stellar appointment . . . a good friend and a great American," who "was a moving force behind one Ronald Reagan being elected governor of California."
These were heady remarks. But it was Goldwater who seemed to have a special empathy with Dart. Both are old enough and successful enough to say what they think.
"I've known you forever," the Arizona Republican told him. "The first time I saw you you were jerking sodas trying to learn the drug business."
That was back in the early 1930s. Dart was fresh out of Northwestern University where he had been an All Big 10 guard on the football team. He had married a daughter of the owner of Walgreen Drug Co., and had been sent to Phoenix to learn the drug business.
Dart rose rapidly in the business. By 1943, he was president of United Drug Co., which later changed its name to Rexall Drug. The company expanded and in 1969 changed its name to Dart Industries. It merged with Kraft, Inc., in 1980.
Dart has no experience in satellite communications. Asked for his qualifications, he wrote on one form that he has "an innate desire for new challenges," and wants "to prove that senility does not necessarily arrive with a pension check."
Goldwater said in an interview that he had lost track of Dart for decades but came in contact with him in recent years. Both found they had a lot in common, Goldwater said: "We're about the same age Dart is 75, Goldwater 74 . He flies a Lear jet and I fly a Lear jet. He's a great collector of Western art and so am I."
Goldwater asked Dart four softball questions, and the whole thing was over in 20 minutes. Goldwater assured Dart that he would be confirmed.