Ever since a devastating motorcycle crash last November left him paralyzed and on a ventilator, James Craig Tinney had grumbled about going to the hospital.

He went several times after returning a few months ago to Tucson from rehabilitation in Colorado. But when he came down with his second bout with pneumonia on June 26, Tinney heeded the advice of Jacquie Wohl, his wife of 29 years, and went to the hospital.

"We caught it really early and he was doing great," Wohl said. "He was released on Monday (June 28), and he was feeling wonderful."

That evening, the couple and their daughters celebrated Wohl's birthday. Later that night, when Wohl went to turn her husband over in his bed - a nightly ritual - he had died. He was 59.

"My guess is that he just decided it was OK for him to go," Wohl said Tuesday, the day after several hundred friends and family members held a memorial service celebrating Tinney's life. "He was a very strong guy. He was strong emotionally, and he was strong physically. I just didn't expect it."

Tinney's death came three weeks after more than 600 friends, relatives and fans of the Privy Tippers guitarist and respected environmental engineer held a fundraising concert at the Temple of Music and Art to help defray his bloating medical expenses.

"I guess in that way, it was like an Irish wake," said Privy Tippers band mate Jerry Weinert, who organized the event. "How many of us get an opportunity to have 600 people say they love you, and you to be able to come back and say you love them. It's so amazing.

"I think Craig had a different sense of peace about him after that," Weinert added. "He tried very hard to rise above his disability and found that he wasn't going to get very far ahead of where he was. I think he thought: 'OK, I've had enough. I can let go.' "

In addition to his wife, Tinney leaves behind two daughters, Ariel and Leah.

Tinney was born on Oct. 9, 1950, in Phoenix and earned a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University. He earned master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Arizona and later achieved his professional engineer certification.

For the past dozen years, he worked with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality helping border and rural communities navigate the labyrinth of bureaucracy to arrange funding for wastewater-treatment plants.

His work earned him legions of fans and a legacy among environmentalists for his devotion to preserving natural waterways and stemming water pollution on both sides of the border.

Tinney's music career was always a hobby, said Wohl, who met Tinney in 1978 at a fiddlers convention in Virginia, not far from her Washington, D.C., home. When the couple moved to Tucson in 1980, they became involved in the Tucson Friends of Traditional Music and later were instrumental in launching the organization's twice-monthly contra dances. The house band for those events later evolved into the Privy Tippers, and the group has been around for more than 15 years, said Wohl, a local attorney.

Tinney's family, friends and colleagues agree that they will remember him most for his unyielding optimism, especially in the darkest days after his motorcycle crash.

"Even after the accident, I would go down to the hospital and Jacquie would say, Bring your mandolin,' " said Dave Firestine, a member of the Privy Tippers. "I didn't know if the music would bother Craig because he couldn't play anymore. But there was always a smile on his face."

Bill Ellett, acting director of the DEQ's Southern Regional Office and a longtime co-worker of Tinney's, added: "He kept that attitude the whole time. After he got back to Tucson, I dropped in on him quite often. … And even when he didn't know I was going to be there, he was always upbeat."

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.