Lawson, who lived in Santa Clara, died April 9 of complications of diabetes in El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, said his daughter, Karen Lawson.
Working in his garage on his own time in the early '70s, he created a coin-operated arcade game called Demolition Derby that incorporated a microprocessor.
At Fairchild, he became the chief engineer of the new video game division, which launched the Fairchild Channel F console in 1976.
Unlike other units whose games were preprogrammed by the manufacturer, the Fairchild Channel F enabled players to switch cartridges and play a variety of games such as Video Black Jack, Space War and Spitfire.
"The use of the cartridge was revolutionary in the game industry," said Don Staub, the former components-marketing manager for Fairchild. "The cartridge allowed multiple games to be played on a single system."
"Jerry was a visionary in this area of gaming," said Staub. "In the conceptual aspects, he understood what the players wanted and could bring it to fruition."
Greg Reyes Sr., a former group vice president of consumer products at Fairchild, said Lawson was "one of a kind."
"He was brilliant, creative and innovative," Reyes said.
In March, Lawson was honored by the International Game Developers Assn.'s Minority Special Interest Group at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
"I found out about Jerry three weeks before our event," said Joseph Saulter, chairman of the association's Diversity Advisory Board.
"The minute I found out about him, I was so excited that I had to honor him in some way," Saulter said. "I felt that his contribution to the industry was so immense, it brought tears to my eyes that he was never really recognized for his contribution to the industry."
Lawson told the San Jose Mercury News in March: "The whole reason I did games was because people said, 'You can't do it.' I'm one of the guys if you tell me I can't do something, I'll turn around and do it."
Lawson was a big man who stood 6 feet 6.
"People liked Jerry," said Staub. "He was imposing but gentle — and he knew a hell of a lot about electronics."
David Erhart, an electrical engineer who knew Lawson, said he was "very straightforward, with no pretense."
"He loved to teach," said Erhart. "If there was a young person around, he loved to slow down and talk to them at the level they could understand and try to get them engaged in science and technology."
The son of a science-loving longshoreman father and a mother who worked for the city of New York, Lawson was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 1, 1940, and grew up in Queens.