Lawson grew up in Mason City, served in the Navy, earned a degree from Grinnell College and came back to town to settle. He and his wife, Jean, raised two children, Mark and Julia.
He owned and operated Klipto Printing, Publishing & Office Supply Co., which he purchased in 1956. Prior to that time, he was employed by Maytag Co. in Newton. He also operated Lawson Leasing Co.