Born in 1921 and raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, Ira Iscoe earned his bachelor’s degree from Sir George Williams College in Montreal, Canada. He studied psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles under Roy Dorcus, a prominent figure in the field of clinical psychology, and graduated in 1951 with a doctorate.
Iscoe joined the psychology faculty at The University of Texas in 1951. During the next several decades he and his wife, Louise Iscoe, worked with the Hogg Foundation in a variety of roles, often encouraging the foundation to be as socially progressive as possible.
An early proponent of community mental health, Iscoe was involved behind the scenes in the foundation’s campaign in the 1950s and 1960s to reform the state hospitals and special schools.
In 1963 he co-authored a pamphlet titled Women View Their Working World that was based on interviews with 100 professional women. He concluded: "There is no telling how much frustration we actually bring about by imbuing a competent and potentially professional woman with the ideas of freedom and achievement and then bringing her face to face with social pressures which prevent her potential from coming to fruition.”
Ira and Louise were vocal supporters of racial integration at The University of Texas. Ira recruited and taught some of the first African American students in the psychology program, and Louise wrote a book, Overcoming, about the struggle to integrate the university in the 1950s and ’60s.
After the Tower shooting in 1966, Iscoe led the foundation’s efforts to help improve and reform counseling services at the university, and would go on to direct student counseling at the university in its first decade of existence. He founded the community psychology program in the 1970s, which trained an entire generation of psychologists.
At a meeting in 1969, Iscoe wondered aloud whether “the Hogg Foundation should be on the lookout for unusual or ‘far out’ projects” that would “challenge the ‘power structure’” while also bringing mental health services to underserved populations.
Iscoe directed the Plan II Interdisciplinary program in 1981-86 and served as director of The University of Texas Human Developmental and Family Institute until his retirement. Among his numerous awards are the Harvard University Fellowship in Community Mental Health; President, TPA (1972); Visiting Scientists, Mental Health (1960); NIMH (1979-80); and Pro Bene Award (1993) from the College of Liberal Arts.
Iscoe, who died in 2015 at the age of 94, was active until nearly the end of his life as a pro bono consultant to a number of community and state agencies and as a mentor to younger faculty members.