BACK IN 1973, Ginny Ozark fired off a letter to the

Daily News

complaining about the criticism writer Bill Conlin was leveling at her husband, Danny, manager of the Phillies.

"She came out swinging like a .350 hitter in defense of her husband," the Daily News wrote.

However, in the midst of a flood of vitriol and threats of lawsuits, Ginny felt constrained to add, "But I love Irma."

It was not the only time that a sports figure, feeling the sting of Conlin's acerbic wit, would launch a tirade against him, but then temper the attack by expressing love for his wife, Irma - almost as if to say that a man with a near-saint of a wife ought to be better behaved.

Not that Irma was a pushover. She stood by her man, all right, but, as Pat McLoone, Daily News managing editor and longtime friend, put it, "She took absolutely no guff from him. Irma always could match Bill wisecrack for wisecrack."

Irma Steelman Conlin, a woman of incredible strength and courage who amazed her doctors by recovering from two brain aneurysms and a stroke in 2002 and returning to work as a real estate salesperson, died yesterday when she again suffered an aneurysm. She had turned 72 on Aug. 20. She lived in Washington Township, N.J.

"She was a tremendous fighter," said her husband, the Daily News sports columnist who is about to be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. "She was a feisty person and she had a tremendous impact on her community."

Irma was born in Atlantic City to C. Somers "Pete" Steelman and the former Laoma Lambert. She graduated from Atlantic City High School.

She met Bill Conlin when he was a hotshot member of the Margate Beach Patrol, winning swimming and boating competitions galore.

But after a disappointing loss in a boating race in July 1958, Bill was in a "blue funk," as he put it. He went to the victory party for the winning boat crew and his younger brother, Jim, who had gone to school with Irma, introduced them.

"So, you're the king of the beach!" she said to him.

"I thought, who is this feisty girl," he said. "Nobody talks to the king like that."

Bill was at Temple University, where he was sports editor and later managing editor of the Temple News, when they met. They began dating, and were married on Oct. 19, 1960, when Bill had moved on to the old Evening Bulletin.

He later joined the Daily News as a baseball writer and took Irma every spring to Clearwater, Fla., for spring training. "She became a huge fan," he said.

One day, Irma went to the condo occupied by Phillies general manager Paul Owens and found Owens' wife, Marseille, on the floor in a diabetic coma.

Irma had worked as a lab technician and knew what to do. She got a bottle of orange juice out of the refrigerator and forced some of it down Marseille's throat. She began coming around, and it seemed clear Irma had saved Marseille from serious consequences.

After the Conlins' three children were out of the house and Bill was off traveling to games, Irma got restless and decided to attend real estate school.

She went to work for Weichert and later Coldwell Banker and quickly gained a reputation for honesty and fairness. She also had an unusual approach to selling property.

"She only sold to people she knew well," her husband said. "She developed an amazing practice. The people in her office just loved her to death."

On May 1, 2002, she and Bill were about to return north from a vacation in Florida when she woke up with an excruciating headache. She was admitted to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, where she underwent surgery.

Doctors told the Conlins that Irma would never drive again and couldn't handle the detail work required of a real estate agent.

She fooled them all, and by November 2002 was back at work.

"She's tough and she's a fighter," Dr. Dean J. Gobo, a neurosurgeon at Morton Plant, told her husband. "I never saw a patient fight the way she fought."

"Irma had a lot of spirit and was so much fun to be around," said Pat McLoone. "If you didn't know Irma, her spunk was on display for all to see one night on Daily News Live on Comcast SportsNet. Bob Eubanks was in for a promotion and did a version of the 'Newlywed Game.' It was Bill and Irma, Angelo Cataldi and his wife, Gail, and Bill and Micky Bergey."

"I think anyone of the six would agree that Irma was a huge hit that day."

Besides her husband, Irma is survived by a daughter, Kimberly McCall; two sons, Pete and William T. III, and two grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service 10 a.m. Friday at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 176 Stagecoach Road, Sicklerville, N.J. Friends may call at 7 p.m. Thursday and 8:15 a.m. Friday at the Egizi Funeral Home, 119 Ganttown Road, Turnersville.