Jerry died in 2011 at age 70. At StoryCorps, Anderson, now 49, and Karen, 52, remembered how their father’s pioneering spirit also influenced how he raised them. As such, Lawson has been called the “father of modern gaming.” But to Karen and Anderson Lawson, he was first and foremost “Dad.”
One of the few Black engineers in Silicon Valley at the time, Jerry worked for a company called Fairchild Camera and Instrument. He helped lead a team that in 1976 released a product known as Channel F, a precursor to video game systems like today’s PlayStation and Xbox. Jerry was always tinkering, taking devices apart and seeing what was inside. As a teenager in Queens, N.Y., he made house calls to repair TVs.
After all, the “F” in his father’s shining achievement, Channel F, stood for “fun.” Anderson remembers his dad’s makeshift lab in their garage resembling a slapdash Star Trek console.
At 6 feet, 6 inches, and some 300 pounds, his stature was intimidating, said the siblings. But Anderson remembered a gentle giant. “He’d pick us up and he would pretend like he was King Kong and go, ‘Aaaahhhh!’ ” he recalled. “Dad was a man without limitations as far as what he felt he could do or accomplish,” Karen said to her brother. “When he did pass, as sad as it was, you and I both know that he lived a full life.”
Shoes were necessary, Karen joked: “It was a death trap.” “There might be 8 to 10 different computers, about the size of a refrigerator, all networked together,” he said. “And I remember walking around and stepping on some of the electronic components and hurting my foot.”
“He just got some free labor out of us,” Anderson said, laughing. The siblings realized as they got older that, as they were having fun and games, they also served as guinea pigs for their father’s early game designs, Karen said, “checking out bugs.” Some of their earliest memories were of them playing games their dad’s team designed.
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