He’s life’s greatest ambassador …

Been that way ever since I met him — almost exactly 10 years ago.

He arrived unannounced in my office, er, cubicle shortly after my 2002 launch at a local community bank, and he uttered those now famous words: “You’ve got mail!”

Charles Desmond Joel Banning, you see, was one of our internal mail carriers — and a very special one at that!

A decorated Special Olympian, Desmond, as he was known to all, served our Goleta administrative building on a multi-person work team, including job coach (and saint) Evey — the benefit of a wonderful partnership with an incredible local nonprofit organization now known as PathPoint, which assists differently challenged individuals develop essential life skills.

We lived these real-life lessons everyday …

Desmond, or some other member of his team, would make the rounds on schedule, pushing a cart to pick up/deliver mail — important in the banking business, where hard-copy deadlines and filings are key.

For us, these rounds came with a usually generous dose of good cheer to all they touched.

And so began our friendship …

It became immediately clear that the amazing individuals on this special team were a very important part of our work family.

We willingly shared in their victories and successes, we listened empathically when they spoke of disappointment, we hugged them when they needed a shoulder, like when much-beloved Garth, one of their team members, died unexpectedly a few years back.

And when they played sports on weekends, they proudly wore their medallions to work.

My wonderful bank colleagues would ask about them, and one could hear the same story repeated as the Special Olympians worked their way around the building in performing their job tasks — eagerly sharing with all, then hustling to stay on schedule.

When he wasn’t playing weekend sports, Desmond often helped in our volunteer program.

Desmond catches up with good friend Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who he refers to as the

Desmond catches up with good friend Rep. Lois Capps, who he refers to as the “president of Santa Barbara” at last year’s Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara Thanksgiving Community Dinner.

And even though he was short in stature, it was apparent his was one of the biggest hearts known to mankind — always taking great personal joy in helping others in anyway he could.

This translated into many community opportunities that bonded us together as friends.

Two buds. Helping out. Just having fun along the way.

Like stuffing food bags with our own army of co-workers for the Salvation Army during the holiday season. Like cashiering at the annual Music Academy of the West’s May Madness Monster Rummage Sale. Like serving lunch at the Veterans Memorial Building after the Veterans Day Parade and a special community dinner at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara during Thanksgiving week. The list goes on and on and on …

He would laugh at my silly jokes and, in return, I gleaned snippets of his life perspective.

Here’s a sampling …

When he’d arrive at work carrying a bag with his week’s supply of assorted healthy frozen meals for lunch, the conversation would usually go like this:

Me: Hey, nice to see you today!
Him: Hi! Nice to be seen.
Me: What’s in the bag?
Him: My lunch for the week.
Me: Which one are you going to eat today?
Him: I dunno. Whatever’s on top.
Me: What about the taste?
Him: They all taste the same.

And over the years, among many things learned about him include:

» Plays a “mean air guitar” when we’re listening to cool, rockin’ tunes in the car.

» If told we are “on the road again,” you get his best Willie Nelson imitation.

» Uses incredible “brainware GPS” at strategic times, like when we’re stuck in Highway 101 traffic to an event and he says exactly what I’m thinking: “Shoulda taken Foothill!”

» Knows all of Santa Barbara’s bus routes and is happily ready for transportation consultation.

» “Always game,” whether shooting hoops inside Costco, driving for the very first time (golf cart NASCAR dude at Sandpiper Golf Club), channeling “good mojo” to my daughter’s San Marcos High School 2006 CIF Championship soccer team (they win every playoff game he attends), etc.

» Keeps current on current events and local “movers and shakers,” like when asked who Rep. Lois Capps is, he responds, “president of Santa Barbara.”

When people tell me that it’s nice that I help him, the truth is, he does more for me than I do for him.

They sometimes ask if we’re associated with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

“Yes,” is my response. “I’m sure lucky to have a Big Brother like Desmond!”

Once in awhile, we’ll practice our schtick and I’ll spontaneously ask a total stranger if we look like mega-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in that old Twins flick.

“I’m Arnold,” Desmond always blurts out with a heavy accent and hearty laugh before anyone can answer.

We’re just friends enjoying each other’s company.

All in all, it’s funny about perspective. Just when you think you’ve got just the right one figured out, someone totally messes you up.

With Desmond, for me, that’s like witnessing the fascinating Harry Potter’s World of Wizardry — your life is never really quite the same.

That now includes living in every moment, learning to appreciate the little things in life — the ones that often make the biggest difference — not sweating the small stuff and embracing his “whatever’s on top” philosophy, and living like every day’s your birthday.

With Desmond now off to a new work gig, we don’t have these everyday interactions as we used to. But we still occasionally get together to watch UCSB women’s hoop games and other fun community stuff.

The good news?

Especially at Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for everything he’s taught me …

What he gives freely in friendship truly is The Greatest Gift.

— Randy Weiss is a local freelance writer and a blogger for Presidio Sports. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.